Archive | October 2014

Why the Seattle Seahawks have given up on the 2014 Super Bowl

After Friday’s shocking trade of wide receiver Percy Harvin to the lowly New York Jets, questions have come to the forefront of why the Seattle Seahawks would engineer such a trade. All the Seahawks received was a conditional pick, ranging between a 4th rounder to a 6th rounder, according to ESPN.

percy harvinThere is a lot of talk about dysfunction in the Seahawks locker room between Harvin and former Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate (now with the Detroit Lions) and Doug Baldwin (another wide receiver). or other instances in the locker room. Not like this is new with Percy Harvin, who has had incidents like this in high school, at the University of Florida and with the Minnesota Vikings, as documented by ESPN’s Rich Cimini. Here’s what Cimini said about Harvin’s past:

  • “Harvin’s time in Minnesota, 2009 to 2012, was filled with a number of incidents. One played out on national television, with Harvin screaming at then-coach Leslie Frazier on the sideline during a game in Seattle in 2012. Weeks later, Harvin reportedly got into another argument with Frazier that was witnessed by some players and staff members.
  • “Harvin also had disputes with Frazier’s predecessor, Brad Childress. One such altercation occurred in 2010, when Childress questioned Harvin’s effort in practice. Harvin, limping with an apparent ankle injury, took exception, and the two had to be separated by players and coaches, according to reports. Another time, they got into a shouting match in the weight room, which included Harvin throwing a weight at Childress. It put a hole in the wall.
  • “In 2009, Harvin reportedly tested positive for marijuana at the NFL scouting combine. That didn’t stop the Jets from showing interest. In fact, they flew to Florida the week of the draft to spend private time with Harvin. After trading up for quarterback Mark Sanchez, they tried to trade back into the first round for Harvin, but then-general manager Mike Tannenbaum deemed the price too steep.
  • “Harvin also had problems in college at Florida. He tested positive for marijuana, refused to run the stadium steps with other teammates during a conditioning session, and attacked wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales, according to The Sporting News. Harvin threw Gonzales to the ground by his neck, according to the report.
  • “Harvin is regarded as one of the greatest high school athletes from the Virginia Beach, Virginia, area, but Harvin encountered trouble in his early years. He was suspended twice, once for unsportsmanlike contact and another time for contacting an official and using inappropriate language. In the spring of his senior year, when he ran track, he was banished by the local high school sports association, reportedly stemming from a fight during a basketball game.”

But why don’t we just come out and say, Harvin was traded because Harvin is A) usually injured, B) cannot run a complete route tree as a professional wide receiver and C) you can’t pay him double digit millions per year and then pay Russell Wilson and others on the Seahawks team.

Seattle’s offense isn’t that good this year, outside of their rushing attack (ranked second in the NFL this season). They rank 31st, almost dead last, in passing yards per game:

seattle 2014 rankings

Their overall stats don’t blow you out of the water, either, giving up more passing touchdowns (10) than rushing touchdowns (2) this young season.

seattle vs opponent stats 2014

Also, the Seahawks roster this year isn’t close to last year’s dominant team. Yes, they’re currently 3-2, but their defense has been lackluster (and their offense, too). Grantland did a wonderful piece on the Seahawks’ lack of a pass rush, detailing how they have good pass rushers on the outside but have no push from the interior defensive tackles. As Grantland pointed out, “The Seahawks had maybe the league’s best pass rush a season ago — fifth in sack rate, first in percentage of opponent dropbacks with pressure. This season, those have dropped to 25th and 32nd, respectively.” Why is that?

Grantland said, “The issue is that without a threat on the inside, quarterbacks are free to move about the pocket as they please.” The article continued:

“In passing situations a year ago, the Seahawks were able to trot out a defensive front with Clemons and Avril on the outside and with Bennett and Clinton McDonald playing defensive tackle. McDonald was an underrated interior pass-rusher who regularly took advantage of mismatched guards. His replacements — Jordan Hill and Kevin Williams — haven’t been the same type of interior force when given the chance. The same goes for the stable of guys used to replace Clemons. The Seahawks are still moving Bennett inside to tackle and should be, but they’re failing to find a second edge rusher to get after quarterbacks who can’t step up in the pockets Bennett is collapsing. Whether it’s O’Brien Schofield or Cassius Marsh, no one is getting much done on the outside.”

If you compare their defensive rosters between this year and last year’s Super Bowl squad, you see several names missing:

1. Chris Clemons, defensive end

2. Clinton McDonald, defensive tackle

3. Walter Thurmond, cornerback

Clemons was a beast on the line, and both him and Avril worked well on the outside while McDonald went up through the middle. Thurmond was able to anchor the Seattle secondary, but now that role has fallen to Byron Maxwell, who has been exposed this year as the corner opposite of Richard Sherman.

They were crucial pieces of last year’s defensive behemoth, and these guys are now on other teams. This doesn’t even cover the consistent, run-heavy offense of the Seahawks. Russell Wilson is a good quarterback out of the pocket, but when their opponents forced Wilson to make his reads, checkdowns and not scramble to make a throw or run, he was exposed as a one-dimensional, outside-the-pocket quarterback.

russell wilsonWithout Harvin, Wilson has Doug Baldwin as his primary receiver and Jermaine Kearse as a second option. That is not intimidating for any NFL defense. Former Pro Bowl tight end Zach Miller hasn’t repeated his outstanding numbers from his Pro Bowl year (60 receptions, 685 yards and 5 touchdowns) because of the ball-control emphasis of Seattle’s offense. He did score 5 touchdowns during their Super Bowl run, but only got 33 receptions that year and 387 total receiving yards. I would hope he could break out again, but with Wilson’s lack of discipline in the pocket, I doubt it. I could have seen him be a Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham-type player for Seattle at one point in his career, but Wilson has not developed that rapport with Miller (and it looks less likely as games roll along).

In the words of former NFL general manager Charles Casserly:

“I do not consider Russell Wilson a Top 10 quarterback, let alone one who belongs in the top five,” Casserly wrote. “The Seahawks win because they have one of the NFL’s best defenses and an outstanding running back in Marshawn Lynch. Wilson — who I think is a good, but not elite, passer — operates in an offense that takes a lot of pressure off him, meaning the Seahawks don’t have to rely upon his arm to win games.”

The Dallas Cowboys edged them last week, 30-28, but it exposed their weaknesses if opposing defenses play disciplined football and not let Wilson get out of the pocket.

This trade shows that the Seahawks have given up on the Super Bowl this year, in the name of the salary cap. By voluntarily trading their best offensive weapon not named Marshawn Lynch, they’ve conceded that they’ll grind out games. They’ll make the playoffs, but they just aren’t a Super Bowl team this year.

I’d like to acknowledge that my brother, Steven, was right about the Seahawks from Day One and the Harvin trade tell us that Seattle is a one-hit wonder due to the salary cap. He also helped inspire this recent blog post.

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Spread Offense Teams can’t play Defense?

I was wondering why teams like the University of Oregon, Baylor and others just don’t play great defense. Their offenses are prolific, light up the scoreboard, but cannot seal the deal when a stout defense is required. I’ll be taking a brief look at Oregon, Baylor and West Virginia and how their defenses stacked up compared to their offenses.

oregon nike green whiteThe University of Oregon Ducks have the flashy uniforms and one of the loudest stadiums in the college football landscape. Their quarterback, Marcus Mariota, should be a Heisman Award finalist this year, even with an unfortunate (and exposing) loss to Arizona and barely escaped Washington State the week before (note: Arizona has now beat Oregon two consecutive years). Offensively, the Ducks averaged:

In the 2011 national title game against Auburn, Oregon’s defense wilted down the stretch as Auburn’s running attack (led by Heisman winner Cam Newton) wore them down. Over the past several years, Oregon’s defense has:

  • Ranked 52nd out of 120 schools in 2011,
  • then slipped to 25th (2012) and 13th (2013) in points allowed for those seasons.

The Ducks defense averaged 390, 374 and 370 yards of offense given up per game during those seasons. That is not good enough to compete for a national championship at the highest level as their defense has regressed and is giving up more points to opposing offenses.

NCAA Football: West Virginia at BaylorBaylor Bears are known as the flashy new “it” school out of Waco, Texas, with its most notable graduate being Robert Griffin III (or “RGIII”). They have a beautiful new stadium along the Brazos River, where you can actually sail and dock your boat at the stadium, and have used their Nike jersey deal to mimic Oregon’s flashy uniforms. But, their offense has also led to a lot of fun shootout games while their defense has struggled. Offensively, they’re dynamic:

  • in 2011, averaged 45.3 points scored per game on offense (ranked 4th) and averaged 587 yards on offense,
  • in 2012, averaged 44.5 points per game (ranked 4th) and 572 yards on offense,
  • in 2013, averaged 52.4 points scored a game (ranked 1st in the country) and 618 yards on the offensive side of the ball.

Defensively: 

  • in 2011, gave up 37.2 points per game (ranked 113th) and 488 yards of offense,
  • in 2012, gave up 37.2 points per game (ranked 113th) and 502 yards of offense,
  • in 2013, Baylor’s defense gave up 23.5 points per game (ranking 36th in the country) and gave up 360 yards per game. 

It’s an improvement, regarding points scored on your defense per game, going from 37 points to 23 points given up per game (and the lower the national/overall ranking the better), but it is still not an elite defense or a good-enough defense to be a championship contender.

wvu holgorsen

West Virginia’s head coach, Dana Holgorson, is known for being an “Air Raid” disciple, where you just spread out the defense and chuck the ball deep and chuck the ball often with five wide receiver sets, running backs out of the backfield and tight ends running free. Offensively, West Virginia Mountaineers have:

  • in 2011, scored 26.3 points per game (ranked 79th overall) and 410 yards of offense,
  • in 2012, scored 39.5 points per game (ranked 9th) and 502 yards per game,
  • in 2013, scored 37.6 points per game (ranked 13th) and 469.5 yards of offense per game

Defensively, West Virginia’s defense has:

  • in 2011, given up 33 points per game (ranked 100th) and 455 yards of offense per game,
  • in 2012, allowed averages of 38 points per game (ranked 117th) and 472 yards of offense,
  • in 2013, allowed 26.8 points per game (ranked 62nd) and 348 yard of offense.

It isn’t bad for West Virginia, but you can see they have regressed on defense by giving up more points per game yet have limited offensive yards. Still, it is not a team ready to contend for a championship.

See a pattern? Spread offenses obviously cannot play defense, but the familiar strain of these spread teams are that they lack the fast, speedy and stout defenses necessary to win a championship.

The real question is, do you ditch the fast, spread offense and middling defense for a better defense with a pro-style offense? I don’t have an answer for that.