Thoughts on the Jimmy Graham Trade

10 Mar
The Seahawks acquired TE Jimmy Graham from the New Orleans Saints Tuesday (Photo Credit: neworleanssaints.com)

The Seahawks acquired TE Jimmy Graham from the New Orleans Saints Tuesday (Photo Credit: Michael Hebert, neworleanssaints.com)

Today’s sequence of events proves two things; that anything is possible, and that head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider will go to any great length to improve this roster. The Seahawks were not expected to swim around the possibility of adding a big name when the new league year and free agency began on Tuesday, but they certainly made a big splash. The Seahawks traded center Max Unger and their 2015 1st round draft pick (#31 overall) to the New Orleans Saints for tight end Jimmy Graham and the Saints 4th round draft pick (#109 overall). With this one move numerous points have come to the surface that I believe must be discussed. Here are my thoughts on today’s trade.

Adding Graham: There is no question that Jimmy Graham instantly becomes the best receiver on the Seahawks roster. Graham is a three-time pro bowler and 2013 All-Pro who is a matchup nightmare for any opposing defense. For 5 years we have watched Graham and Saints quarterback Drew Brees connect for 54 total touchdowns. Only the tandem of Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski had more touchdowns in this span.

What I am not so hot on is the Seahawks inheriting Graham’s $9 million salary for 2015, making him the second highest paid offensive player on the roster. With Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, and Marshawn Lynch having already signed lucrative deals with Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner also due to cash in soon, I believe that this move may make sense only in the short term. After this upcoming season things could get very interesting. And complicated.

Graham will certainly see his fair share of targets and his presence in red zone will certainly improve the 20th ranked red zone offense last season. I believe the Seahawks need to add another weapon on the outside but adding Graham is certainly a good start to making our offense more explosive vertically.

Losing Unger: I am honestly more concerned about the ramifications that come with trading Max Unger. With Unger going to New Orleans the Seahawks are not only losing a pro bowl offensive lineman, but they are thinning out a position group that I believe could not afford to get any thinner. As of now Seattle’s starting center is Patrick Lewis. Add in the departure of James Carpenter to the New York Jets and the Seahawks currently have Alvin Bailey plugged in as our starting left guard. In regards to trading Unger I believe this means one of three things. Either:

  1. The Seahawks are comfortable going into 2015 with Patrick Lewis as our starting center (The Seahawks proved they could win without Unger at the end of last season, going 6-0 in the final 6 regular season games, all of which Unger was injured).
  2. John Schneider has his eyes on a free agent center that he may look to bring in to replace Unger. (Jonathan Goodwin and Chris Myers are the best available veteran free agent centers according to ESPN).
  3. Schneider has fallen in love with a center in the 2015 draft who he believes could still be on the board when the Seahawks make their first pick (#62 overall).

Time will tell but at this point I cannot simply say one team won this trade and the other lost. Both teams are giving up a significant player but are receiving a significant player in return. If the Seahawks use Graham just like he was used in New Orleans, it is going to be awfully difficult to stop our offense in 2015.

Review: Patriots 28, Seahawks 24

3 Feb
Photo Credit: Patriots.com

Photo Credit: Patriots.com

I can count the number of times I have been this heartbroken on one hand. I could use only a couple of fingers actually. After a game in which we saw alternating first half touchdowns and us grabbing a 10-point fourth quarter lead, two defensive lapses and a play call which will go down as one of the worst in NFL history ultimately cost the Seahawks a second world championship. The New England Patriots are the 2014 world champions after a 28-24 Super Bowl XLIX win which will go down as one of the greatest Super Bowls of all-time. Unfortunately for us 12’s, we come out on the short end of things. This review will be exclusively commentary. There are several topics on the way this game turned out that I would like to shed light on. No stats, no game analysis. Just me talking. My hope is by the end of this I myself will be feeling better. My hope is that my words will help you get over this incredible unexplainable heartbreak as well.

Seahawks Lost Game Well Before Final Play: The Seahawks defense had every opportunity to make sure this game would not come down to Russell Wilson’s game clinching interception. Instead they gave up 14 fourth quarter points, blowing a 10-point lead which normally would be enough for us to hold on and win. Tom Brady absolutely picked the Seahawks defense apart and the New England offensive game plan was executed exquisitely. It did not help that Seattle lost both Jeremy Lane and Cliff Avril to injuries but their replacements, especially backup cornerback Tharold Simon had an extremely difficult time staying with the Patriots receivers. The 28 points the Seahawks allowed is tied for the 3rd highest single game total allowed in 2014. Seattle lost all three of the other games in which they allowed 28 or more points (San Diego, Dallas, St. Louis). Our pass rush was ineffective and that allowed Brady time to step up and make some great throws. It is amazing however that considering how badly our defense played, we were still in a position to win the game. That should say something about the resolve and fight of this young group.

The Call: In regards to offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and his play calling, let me rewind the clock for a minute. The following was taken directly from my review of the Seahawks loss to the Kansas City Chiefs back on November 16th:

”I understand that in crunch time if a play is successful the offensive coordinator is touted as a genius and if it fails he is widely criticized. This season however I feel like whatever play Bevell dials up in these situations, me along with the majority of Seahawks fans would have called the complete opposite play, regardless of whether we convert or not. Frankly I am absolutely sick and tired of Bevell’s play-calling in high pressure situations. I hope that Bevell is in a position to be interviewed and accept a head coaching job somewhere come seasons end. Whether he is offered a new job elsewhere or he is fired, I do not want him on this staff in 2015. Overreaction or not, I believe it is time for the Seahawks to move on from Darrell Bevell.”

Let me get this out of the way bluntly. I absolutely do not agree with the second down play call of a quick inside slant on the one-yard line. I doubt anybody agrees with it. My previous thoughts following the Kansas City game however raise an interesting point. If Ricardo Lockette catches that ball for a touchdown, the Seahawks repeat as world champions. The manner in which the play failed is greatly magnified because of the situation; one yard away from taking the lead with 20 seconds left, and the Seahawks likely going on to win the game and hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. After taking the time to think about the situation this is what I would have done. You may agree or you may not. I would have called a run to Marshawn Lynch on second down. If we are stopped I would take our final timeout. On third down I would have called one of three plays: either a Russell Wilson roll out pass similar to the 2-point conversion play call in the NFC Championship Game, a fade to Chris Matthews in the back corner of the endzone (I would have confidence in him out-jumping either Darrelle Revis or Brandon Browner to make the catch), or I would let Russell Wilson keep the ball on a read-option or a naked bootleg. If we are stopped here and the clock is dead, on fourth down I would line up with an extra offensive lineman on the right side, I would put fullback Will Tukuafu in motion to be an additional right-side blocker, then hand the ball to Lynch and let him plow his way across the goal line.

The timing of this play could not have been worse and it cost us a championship. This is not the first time Bevell has made questionable play calls within 5 yards of the endzone. Arizona in 2012 and Kansas City this year immediately come to mind. I stand by my opinion that the Seahawks need to move on from Darrell Bevell in 2015. Pete Carroll can fall on the sword and take the blame all he wants, but Bevell’s play calling has cost us games time and time again and his tendencies nipping us in the bud in the biggest game in franchise history should be the tipping point.

Infamous Company: Shortly after the game I texted a friend of mine, pondering “is this how Titans fans feel?” The Seahawks join the 1999 Tennessee Titans as the two teams that came up one yard short of potentially winning the Super Bowl. However, the Seahawks loss is much worse for one big reason, the answer my friend and I agreed on: “The Titans didn’t even get the chance to screw it up.”

It is true. The Titans advanced the ball down to the one-yard line but the clock was not their ally. Tennessee ran out of time before they were able to snap one more play and the St. Louis Rams went on to win Super Bowl XXXIV. In this instance, the Seahawks got the ball to the one-yard line and potentially had three more opportunities to score. Instead, well, you know what happened. This is what makes this loss the most painful I have ever experienced. To know we were a mere 36 inches away from back-to-back championships makes me sick to my stomach.

Staying Positive: As tough as this loss may be to process right now here are some points to help us stay optimistic about the future. First, after the Seahawks lost to Atlanta in the 2012 playoffs we saw this team work as hard as possible over the next offseason to make sure they would not be in the same position again. That hard work resulted in a Super Bowl title in 2013. I believe this awful taste will stay in the mouths of all these players for the next seven months and we will be hungrier than ever come September. Second, this team is young. It is not like this group was aging and had only one shot to win a championship and the ship sailed. This core group is going to be around for a long time and I am certain we will be back in the Super Bowl very soon, maybe even again next season. The third and perhaps most important point is this. Even though we lost this time around we know what it feels like to be world champions. For the longest time the Seahawks were a franchise that had no championship history. We have been to the summit. We are not still in search of our first Lombardi Trophy. XLVIII will never be taken away from us. As nice as it would be to have two right now, remember we had zero for over 35 years. I am damn proud of the one championship that we do have and those are memories that will never ever go away.

Random Thoughts: Just one thought in regards to the overall gameday/stadium experience. I liked how spread out and convenient events seemed to be this year compared to last year. Although downtown Phoenix and Times Square were eerily similar, the gameday experience in and around the stadium in Glendale was much smoother this year. I liked being able to be dropped off in the Westgate Entertainment District, eat before the game, then get into the stadium within 10 minutes rather than take two trains to New Jersey, have 4+ hours of time to kill before the game, then take two trains after the game and get back to the hotel at 3 o’clock in the morning.

I have yet to decide if I will do a post chronicling my week in Arizona for Super Bowl XLIX. If I do decide to write something, look for that likely this weekend. My hope is to be back in a couple weeks during the NFL Scouting Combine. By then I hope is to be fully over this devastation and be fully focused on the 2015 season. Thanks for reading and for the support throughout this season everybody. It means a lot to me. Go Seahawks!

Patriots/Seahawks Preview (Super Bowl XLIX)

29 Jan
Photo Credit: Seahawks.com

Photo Credit: Seahawks.com

Matchup: New England Patriots (AFC Champion) vs. Seattle Seahawks (NFC Champion)

Site: University of Phoenix Stadium (Glendale, Arizona)

Kickoff: 3:30pm

After the miraculous sequence of events in the NFC Championship Game, the question must be asked; are the 2014 Seattle Seahawks a team of destiny? A win this week will absolutely answer that question with a resounding ‘yes.’ The two-time defending NFC Champion Seahawks face off against the AFC Champion New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX. With a win, it will mark the 9th time in NFL history a team has repeated as world champions and the first since the 2003-2004 Patriots. The all-time series between these two teams is tied 8-8. Their last meeting has re-emerged in the media in recent days as preparation for Super Bowl XLIX continues. In that October 2012 meeting, Seattle erased a 13 point fourth quarter deficit and came back to beat the Patriots 24-23. That game arguably launched the future success of this entire team, as the Seahawks have posted a 38-11 record since. This game is perhaps more well known for the postgame episode between Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in which Brady told Sherman and Earl Thomas to see his after the game (when New England won). The Seahawks instead walked off the field victorious and shortly after the game Sherman posted a picture of him loud-mouthing Brady postgame with the caption “You Mad Bro.” A lot has changed since that rainy fall day two seasons ago. Here is what I will be looking for in Super Bowl XLIX.

Russell Wilson: Last week the Seahawks offense shied away from the read-option until late in the game, which is when our offense had the most success. In regards to the read-option I have the same mindset this week that I did before Super Bowl XLVIII. This is the last game of the season and regardless if we win or lose we are going home no matter what. Why not completely open up the playbook and let Russell Wilson run free? Wilson has rushed for over 50 yards in six games this season. The Seahawks are 4-2 in those games, losing the two games by a combined 6 points. The Seahawks have not played a game this season where Russell Wilson keeping the ball is a top offensive priority so I do not expect the Seahawks to use a lot of read-option in the first part of this game. If the Seahawks get off to a slow start it would not surprise me to see offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell call more read-option plays rather than be patient to see if we can work out our potential offensive problems.

Offensive Matchup to Watch: RB Marshawn Lynch vs. Patriots DT Vince Wilfork. In reality the matchup I really want to see is Beast Mode against the entire New England defensive line but of all Patriots defenders I think Wilfork could give Lynch the hardest time. Wilfork leads all Patriots interior linemen in tackles with 47 on the season and his ability to penetrate the offensive line is uncanny. He may not show up in the stat sheet regularly but his ability to overpower the offensive guard forces the opponents running game to the outside. Lynch thrives off of being able to run through the middle of the field and gain yards after contact. Running to the outside could be the most effective strategy for the Seahawks to pick up yards on the ground. Wilfork could be the reason why we see the Seahawks use both Lynch and Russell Wilson in the running game on the outside.

Defensive Matchup to Watch: SS Kam Chancellor vs. Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski. The only Seattle defender that could possibly cover New England tight end Rob Gronkowski one-on-one is Chancellor. I believe the possibility of Chancellor delivering one of his signature “Bam Bam” hits to Gronkowski would be worth the price of admission. I want to see two things out of the Seahawks defense this week. The first is an expanded “big nickel” package. With Gronkowski mostly playing in the slot, I want to see Chancellor line up at nickel corner instead of Jeremy Lane or Tharold Simon and for the Seahawks to bring reserve safety DeShawn Shead on as an extra safety playing in Chancellor’s normal spot. This would give the Seahawks a 4-2-5 defensive look which will allow the Seahawks to rush four defensive linemen while also adding an extra blanket of coverage on Gronkowski. The second thing I want to see is something that we have struggled to do in the playoffs; put pressure on the quarterback. Tom Brady is a pure pocket passer who does not tend to scramble. The Seahawks need to use the likes of O’Brien Schofield, Bruce Irvin, and Malcolm Smith in interior blitz packages to overwhelm Brady. If the Seahawks can sack Brady three times and hold Gronkowski to limited catches the Seahawks will have put themselves in a great position to win this game.

Patriots X-Factor Player(s) to Watch: All the talk this week in regards to the New England running game is how the Seahawks are going to be able to corral running back LeGarrette Blount. What’s to say Blount is even the feature back on Sunday? The Patriots have several weapons on the ground at their disposal and that is where I put my X-Factor spotlight for Super Bowl XLIX; on running backs Jonas Gray, Shane Vereen, and Brandon Bolden. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has been known to be very hot-and-cold when it comes to which personnel to use. Gray, Vereen, and Bolden have combined for 842 yards and 8 touchdowns this season. I believe Vereen would give the Seahawks the most trouble out of these three as he plays the most versatile game. Blount, Gray, and Bolden are all physical runners that I believe the Seahawks defense would have an easier time containing. For as good of a game Blount had in the AFC Championship Game I believe there is a good possibility we will not see Blount as the primary running back and instead we could see one of New England’s three other backs.

Comparisons to the 2013 Broncos: Many of my friends have asked me how the 2014 Patriots compare to the 2013 Broncos whom we beat in last year’s Super Bowl. Here is my quick take on this subject. On offense no team is going to be much better than last year’s Broncos, who set records left and right. Historically, the 2013 Denver Broncos are the best offensive unit in NFL history so this year’s Patriots are obviously not as good as the offense we faced last year. I do believe however that this year’s Patriots defense is better than last year’s Broncos defense, which is why this Super Bowl will be a tougher game for the Seahawks to win. Last year the Broncos allowed an average of 24.9 points per game while the 2014 Patriots are only allowing an average of 19.5 points per game. Since New England has the better defense, I have to say that I believe that overall the 2014 Patriots are a better team as a whole than the 2013 Broncos.

Random Thoughts: The Seahawks are the designated home team in this year’s Super Bowl so we will be wearing our navy blue home jerseys this week. We will likely wear our navy pants and I would be stunned if we wear white or wolf grey pants. The Patriots will wear their white jerseys and navy blue pants; the first time they have worn that combination in a Super Bowl since Super Bowl XXXIX… Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, and Michele Tafoya have the call for NBC this week. NBC will broadcast 5 hours of pregame coverage starting at 10am Sunday morning… Bill Vinovich is the referee for Super Bowl XLIX, his first. Vinovich officiated one Seahawks game in 2014; our 24-14 win over Philadelphia in December… For the first time ever the Seahawks are playing in a Super Bowl in a warm climate. I cannot wait to get my sunburn on down in Phoenix this weekend. It will be nice to escape the 50 degree weather and the rain for a few days and be able to walk down the street in a t-shirt and shorts in the evening… Two words to describe the price of ticket prices for this year’s Super Bowl: holy cow. If you don’t have an idea, go check StubHub right now… I am staying two miles away from University of Phoenix Stadium so I will likely just walk to the game on Sunday. That will be a nice change from taking two trains to and from New Jersey last year and getting back to Manhattan after 2am… I hope the weather does not cooperate on Sunday. Bad weather would force stadium officials to close the stadium’s roof. The current plan is for the roof to stay open for the game but inclement weather would force them to keep the roof closed. That would be a significant advantage for the Seahawks. I would like the building to be as loud as possible… Last season in New York the 12th Man made a lot of noise at MetLife Stadium. It makes me wonder how the 12’s will travel this year since the Super Bowl is being played closer to home. Phoenix is significantly closer to Seattle than the New England area so I would not be surprised to see the overwhelming majority to be Seahawks fans. I think more Seahawks fans will be at this game than last year’s game… With a win the Seahawks would become the 13th NFL franchise to win multiple Super Bowls. The teams we would tie with 2 championships would be the Broncos, Dolphins, Colts, and Ravens… Last year in New York I met/got pictures with no celebrities which was a disappointment. This year I have to see and meet celebrities. I would honestly settle for just one picture with someone famous… I do not think we can start “dynasty” talk if we win this game just yet, but knocking off Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in back-to-back Super Bowls would be unbelievable.

Prediction: The game balls will be properly inflated.

Oh you wanted a game prediction! Okay here it goes…

This will absolutely NOT be a 43-8 shellacking like last season however that doesn’t mean the Seahawks will lose this time around. The Seahawks defense will hold the Patriots offense to under 300 total yards and Tom Brady will fail to throw for a touchdown for the first time in his Super Bowl career. Marshawn Lynch will run for 85 yards and a touchdown while Russell Wilson throws a touchdown to Jermaine Kearse. Lynch will win Super Bowl MVP and the Seahawks will head back to Seattle with their second Lombardi Trophy in as many seasons.

Seahawks 23, Patriots 13

I will be back from Arizona Tuesday night. Check back late Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning for my Super Bowl XLIX review. Enjoy the game everyone and to those lucky enough to attend, enjoy this moment because you do not know when this opportunity will present itself again. Go Seahawks!

Review: Seahawks 28, Packers 22 (OT)

18 Jan
Photo Credit: Seahawks.com

Photo Credit: Seahawks.com

Honestly I do not even know where to start with this post and I apologize if this review is all over the place. When I woke up at 5:30am this morning and hopped in the shower a thought ran through my mind; “how could this NFC Championship Game top last year’s?” I thought that there was little that could happen that could dethrone last year’s title game as the greatest game I’ve ever been to. That “little” was a miracle, and after 55 minutes of terrible football, the Seahawks orchestrated what I believe to be the greatest comeback in NFL postseason history, given the span of time it happened in. The Seahawks, down 12 points with 2:00 left to play in regulation, came back to defeat the Green Bay Packers 28-22 in overtime to re-claim their spot as NFC Champions. The Seahawks now head to Arizona to face the AFC Champion New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX. Here are my scattered thoughts on today’s incredible victory.

Wilson’s Worst: Head coach Pete Carroll preaches “it’s all about the ball” but if you were to tell me that the Seahawks would turn the ball over 5 times, including 4 Russell Wilson interceptions, and still win this game I would have told you that you were crazy.  As the stat line shows, Wilson had his worst game of the season on Sunday which included a season-low passer rating of 44.3. What was most frustrating was the decision making behind his throws especially two of those which were intercepted. On his second interception of the game, Wilson threw what felt to be a desperation heave on first down into double coverage. The ball was picked off by Packers safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix who was draped all over intended receiver Jermaine Kearse from the get-go. Wilson’s third interception was also thrown in Kearse’s direction but cornerback Sam Shields was playing lockdown coverage and easily snatched the ball away from Kearse in the endzone. For a guy who has played flawless football throughout his playoff career, I was shockingly disturbed about the way Russell Wilson played for the majority of Sunday’s game.

“This is Where He Earns His Contract”: This is what my friend Jake screamed in my ear after the Seahawks recovered the onside kick trailing 19-14 with an opportunity for Russell Wilson to lead the next drive and take the lead. That is exactly what he did in the final 5:28 of the ballgame. Wilson finally used read-option and it worked with great success as the Seahawks drove 50 yards culminating in a 24-yard touchdown run by Marshawn Lynch, giving the Seahawks a 20-19 lead. The following two-point conversion was classic Wilson, as he wildly scrambled far to the right before throwing up a prayer to the left which was somehow caught by tight end Luke Willson. Seahawks 22, Packers 19. In overtime it seemed as if Wilson had completely put the first part of the game behind him, connecting with Doug Baldwin on a beautiful arching pass for 35 yards. On the very next play, after calling an audible similar to the one he called on the Baldwin touchdown against Carolina last week, Wilson threw a beautiful rainbow which was hauled in by Jermaine Kearse to win the game. What a moment for the most resilient athlete I have ever seen.

Play of the Season: Let’s rewind to the two-point conversion the Seahawks completed to make it a 22-19 game. Two points must be made. First, if the Seahawks decide to kick the extra point, the Seahawks are up by 2 with 1:25 left and the Packers have one more chance to potentially win the game in regulation. As it turns out, Green Bay was able to drive into field goal range and kick a game-tying field goal to send the game to overtime. An extra point could have ultimately given the Packers the win in regulation 22-21. Second, Luke Willson absolutely made the catch of the season hauling in the wild Russell Wilson pass. If that pass falls incomplete (which it very well could have) the Seahawks would have been up only one and Green Bay would have still drove into field goal range to win the game. This conversion saved our season, and in a game with hugely clutch plays down the stretch, this one play cannot go unnoticed.

General Thoughts on the Comeback: I’m fighting back tears as I am writing this. This was the most unbelievable 60 minutes of football I have ever been a part of. Bar none. Down two possessions with two minutes left, the ability for the Seahawks to seemingly turn on the switch and play the championship caliber football we all knew they were capable of playing is absolutely incredible to me. To see Russell Wilson, Jermaine Kearse, Doug Baldwin, and Earl Thomas all in tears after this game; there are simply no words to describe the feeling. As sweet as it was to see us win our first Super Bowl last year, I honestly cannot remember the last time I was this happy.

Random Thoughts: Only one random thought this week. If there was ever an example to show why you should NEVER EVER leave a game early, today is it. To everyone who left, it amazes me how little faith you have in this team. I understand that the odds were greatly stacked against us but today proved that anything can happen. It was an awesome sight to see those people who left early stand still outside CenturyLink Field’s north plaza, most of whom I would imagine absolutely regretting leaving. Shame. On. You. All.

In the next two weeks I hope to hop on more frequently as the Seahawks prepare for Super Bowl XLIX. Be on the lookout. Go Seahawks!

Packers/Seahawks Preview (NFC Championship Game)

17 Jan
Photo Credit: Seahawks.com

Photo Credit: Seahawks.com

Matchup: (2) Green Bay Packers at (1) Seattle Seahawks

Site: CenturyLink Field (Seattle, Washington)

Kickoff: 12:05pm

In Pete Carroll’s first season as head coach, the Seahawks were one divisional playoff win over the Chicago Bears away from hosting the Green Bay Packers in the 2010 NFC Championship Game. Unfortunately we fell short but now four seasons later the Seahawks now have that matchup set. The Seahawks and Packers meet in Seattle in the 2014 NFC Championship Game Sunday afternoon. The winner will represent the NFC in Super Bowl XLIX. The loser goes home. Green Bay leads the all-time series with the Seahawks 10-7. The Packers have had Seattle’s number in the playoffs but the Seahawks have had the better luck as of late, winning the past two games including a 36-16 win over Green Bay earlier this season for NFL Kickoff 2014. This is what I believe must happen for the Seahawks to successfully defend their NFC Championship and advance to their second straight Super Bowl.

In their first meeting back in September running back Marshawn Lynch torched the Packers defense for 110 rushing yards and two touchdowns. This week could be more of the same. The Seahawks will once again attempt to establish the running game with Lynch in an effort to control the clock and the tempo of the game. A successful day running the ball I believe will lead to a Seahawks victory. In the passing game the Seahawks could benefit due to the fact that our number one weapon in our first meeting this season, Percy Harvin, is no longer on the team. Receivers Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse, as well as tight end Luke Willson combined for 5 catches for 23 yards back in week one. Given that these three guys were not primary features in our offensive game plan in that game, I believe this adds a wrinkle in our offense this week that the Packers have not seen. Quarterback Russell Wilson was willing to throw down the seam to Kearse and Willson against Carolina last week and I believe both could be primed for big games yet again this week.

The very first play of the 2013 NFC Championship Game was a Russell Wilson fumble recovered by the San Francisco 49ers. That play ultimately resulted with 3 San Francisco points. Three Colin Kaepernick turnovers in the second half ultimately doomed the 49ers. See where I am going here? The Seahawks number one priority in this championship game must be to protect the ball. I am fully confident that the Legion of Boom can force Green Bay turnovers so it is imperative that Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch among others hold onto the ball to prevent extra offensive opportunities for the Packers. We will not win if our offense turns the ball over multiple times because Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers will take advantage of extra opportunities, especially short yardage opportunities. The Seahawks did not turn the ball over last week and we won by two scores. Another clean game and the Seahawks could be cruising to Arizona.

The number one storyline on the offensive side of the ball for the Green Bay Packers is the health of Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers played last week with a strained and possibly slight torn left calf, an injury that limited his mobility but not necessarily his ability to make plays. Immediately following last week’s game Rodgers came out and said that his calf was not feeling as good as in the days leading up to last Sunday’s game. It is likely that Rodgers’s mobility will once again be a question mark this week. The best way to rattle the ailing likely league MVP is to send pressure from all directions, whether this results in sacks or forces Rodgers to retreat from the pocket. Rodgers has been sacked 11 times by the Seahawks in his last two games in Seattle. Bruce Irvin and O’Brien Schofield are the two guys I expect to see on the field a lot this week. I will consider it a success if Irvin and Schofield can quickly penetrate the Packers offensive line and get to Rodgers at least one time each. If Green Bay struggles to protect Rodgers early on, it could be a very long game and the threat of Rodgers injuring his leg worse will absolutely increase.

With the majority of the attention on the Packers offense, the fact that Green Bay ranks 10th in the league in pass defense has flown under the radar. Four members of the Packers secondary rank among the six best tacklers on the team. Only one of those guys has recorded double-digit passes defensed, and that is why cornerback Tramon Williams is my X-Factor player to watch for the Packers this week. Williams has recorded 61 tackles this season with 13 passes defensed. Williams is also tied for the team lead in interceptions with 3. I expect to see Williams line up across from Jermaine Kearse for most of the game but do not expect to see him also go up again Ricardo Lockette and Kevin Norwood in dime packages.

Normally this last point would be worthy of a note in “Random Thoughts” but given the circumstances I feel that this is important to point out on itself. Seahawks fans are not used to early starts. In fact, this is the first time since CenturyLink Field opened that the Seahawks have hosted a game that starts at noon. To everyone attending Sunday’s game, BE IN YOUR SEATS AT LEAST 30-45 MINUTES PRIOR TO KICKOFF. When we go live to the nation on FOX at noon, I want to see 68,000 people all in their seats waving their rally towels as the Seahawks get ready to be introduced. Please plan accordingly.

Random Thoughts: The Packers will wear their classic white jersey/yellow pants combo this week. The Seahawks in all-blue per usual… Joe Buck and Troy Aikman have the call for FOX this week with Erin Andrews and Chris Myers patrolling the sidelines… This will be the first time the Seahawks host the earlier conference championship game. Both of Seattle’s previous trips to the NFC Championship Game kicked off at 3:30pm… Tony Corrente is the referee this week. Corrente previously officiated the Seahawks win over San Francisco on Thanksgiving… This is going to be one of the earliest wake-up calls for a Seahawks home game I have ever had. Definitely planning on being downtown with a drink in hand by 8am… As previously mentioned, the giveaway this week once again is rally towels… The National Anthem will be sung by 2006 American Idol runner-up Katharine McPhee… The Seahawks announced Friday that the halftime show will be Seattle band Alice in Chains. That will be pretty cool but in my opinion not as cool as Macklemore last year… I would love to see former Seahawks head coach Mike Holmgren raise the 12th Man flag this week, especially since it would come against his other former team, the Packers. I doubt it will happen but I would love to see it happen. There has been a lot of talk about letting Paul Allen raise the flag again. I personally think we should let somebody else do it. It would become super predictable for potential future NFC title games if Mr. Allen gets to raise the flag for every single one. My dark horse candidate to raise the flag is Randy Johnson… In the 24 or so hours following this game should we win, will be the shopping spree loading up on Seahawks Super Bowl XLIX merchandise… Why does this game feel like no big deal? Have we become spoiled? Is it because we are not playing the arch-rival 49ers again? Something just feels a little more relaxed about this year’s NFC Championship Game. My guess is that all changes once we all get down to CenturyLink Field.

Prediction: This game will be an instant classic and will see-saw until the very end. The Seahawks will get the scoring started with a field goal with the Packers adding a field goal of their own. A Seahawks second quarter touchdown pass to Luke Willson will give them a 10-3 lead with Green Bay tying the game just before halftime. There will be two more instances in the second half where the game gets tied up; 17-17 and 24-24 respectively. The Seahawks will take the clock down to the wire and Steven Hauschka will kick the biggest field goal in Seahawks history; a 42-yard field goal as time expires to send the Seahawks to Super Bowl XLIX.

Seahawks 27, Packers 24

Win or lose, check back late Sunday night for my NFC Championship review. Thanks for reading and enjoy the game. Go Seahawks!

Review: Seahawks 31, Panthers 17

11 Jan
Photo Credit: Seahawks.com

Photo Credit: Seahawks.com

In a game that was closer than it maybe should have been in the first half, the Seahawks came out in the second half and proved they had more fire power than their opposition. The Seahawks defeated the Carolina Panthers 31-17 on Saturday night, advancing to their second straight NFC Championship Game next Sunday right here in Seattle. For the Panthers, their season is now over. In a big time game many Seahawks players stepped up in a big way. Here are my thoughts on Saturday’s win.

Russell Wilson’s Best Game of the Year: Russell Wilson’s passer rating sums up the Seahawks offensive success in a nutshell. Wilson went 15/22 for 268 yards and 3 touchdowns Saturday night, on his way to a 149.2 passer rating; his best since posting a 127.3 passer rating week 5 against Washington. This win also marks the sixth time in the past 8 games that Wilson did not throw an interception. What may be even more impressive is that the Seahawks did not rely on Wilson’s feet to extend drives. His patience in the pocket and willingness to take shots down the field paid dividends in this game and the Carolina secondary had a difficult time stopping the Seahawks passing game, not necessarily because of the coverage they played but because Wilson was so pinpoint accurate hitting his receivers. With the Seahawks facing another young secondary next week I would expect Wilson and the Seahawks offense to formulate a similar game plan for the NFC Championship.

Kearse Makes Significant Impact: The distribution of Russell Wilson’s passes was about as even as you could get, but wide receiver Jermaine Kearse played the most significant role in the passing game. Kearse led all Seahawks receivers with 129 receiving yards and a touchdown on 3 catches, the biggest of which coming on his one-armed touchdown grab for 63 yards with 4:54 remaining in the second quarter. As great as Kearse’s performance was on Saturday, we must look ahead to the role he must play next week now that we know Paul Richardson is out for the season with a torn ACL. Although Kearse is a starter and it would be expected that Ricardo Lockette will see more playing time next week, I would fully expect him to be Russell Wilson’s primary target next week, especially on deep passes.

The Power of the Turkey Leg: In the fourth quarter I went down to the concourse and bought myself a “Bam Bam Kam turkey leg,” one of the new food items introduced for this year’s playoff run. I got the turkey leg, went back to my seat, started eating it, and within 5 minutes Kam Chancellor picked off a Cam Newton pass and returned it 90 yards for a touchdown. The score gave the Seahawks a 31-10 lead and any hope Carolina had of coming back was gone. Chancellor played as good of a game as I have ever seen him play, and he made a positive impact in multiple areas. In addition to the interception and touchdown, Chancellor co-led all Seattle defenders in tackles with 11 and recorded a pass defensed. What may have been more impressive however was his flawless perfection timing Carolina’s snap count and jumping over the line of scrimmage to try to block back-to-back field goal attempts at the end of the first half, even though both were negated by penalties. I may have to invest in another turkey leg next week, as I feel it could be Chancellor’s good luck charm in these playoffs.

Turnover Battle: If it wasn’t for an overturned Earl Thomas interception, the Seahawks would have gone to the locker room at halftime up 3-0 in the turnover battle, and arguably could have had broken the game wide open instead of leading by just 4 points. By game’s end, the Seahawks had their third turnover, and ended the game +3 in turnover differential. The Seahawks turned these three turnovers into 14 of their 31 points.

Thoughts on Carolina: The biggest area I thought the Panthers would struggle in this week was handling the crowd noise. Overall, I was impressed with quarterback Cam Newton’s ability to handle the noise but his decision making in the passing game was questionable. Nevertheless I see potential for Newton to improve in the offseason and be much better next season. The Panthers need to get back to playing more consistent defense next season. With as sloppy as the NFC South was in 2014, I believe that 9 wins could win that division in 2015. At this point I believe that the Carolina Panthers should be the favorites next season to win their 3rd straight division title.

Random Thoughts: I love primetime football and I am really glad that the fog and mist made it seem darker right before kickoff… The streamers were once again a huge success but since Marshawn Lynch didn’t score a touchdown the Skittles I brought were used as a snack instead of a celebratory prop… Back to the Bam Bam Kam turkey leg for a quick second, it was $10 but there was probably only $7 worth of turkey on it. It was not like a Disneyland turkey leg which tastes more like corned beef. This turkey leg was clearly turkey but it was surprisingly flavorful. I would recommend it but to a big guy like me it is more of a snack instead of a meal… The rally towels looked amazing and more people waved them than at the NFC Championship Game last season. I hope they stick around for next week’s game… I hate that next week’s game starts at noon. That start time is unusual for all Seahawks fans since the earliest a game can start in Seattle in the regular season is 1:05pm. I have been to 2 Seahawks games in other cities that start at noon so I personally should be good to go. It will be interesting however to get to the bars around 8am, which will by far be the earliest time for me this season.

Next week’s matchup has been set. The Seahawks will host the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game at CenturyLink Field next Sunday. Check back Saturday for my preview of that game. Go Seahawks!

Panthers/Seahawks Preview (NFC Divisional Playoff)

9 Jan
Photo Credit: Seahawks.com

Photo Credit: Seahawks.com

Matchup: (4) Carolina Panthers at (1) Seattle Seahawks

Site: CenturyLink Field (Seattle, Washington)

Kickoff: 5:15pm

I love the city of Seattle in the month of January. Everyone has a pep in their step in preparation for the NFL Playoffs. After an eventful Wild-Card weekend we know which of the surviving teams gets the opportunity to play at CenturyLink Field in the NFC Divisional playoffs. That team is the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers take on the NFC West champion Seattle Seahawks Saturday night. The winner advances to the NFC Championship Game next Sunday. The loser goes home. Last week the Panthers became the second team in modern NFL history to win their first playoff game after entering the postseason with a losing record. Including that win last week over the Arizona Cardinals, the Panthers enter this game 8-8-1. The Seahawks are 12-4 and are looking to make it back to their second straight NFC title game. The Seahawks lead the all-time series with Carolina 6-2. Their last meeting came earlier this season when the Seahawks beat the Panthers 13-9 in Charlotte. The Seahawks went on to win 8 of their next 9 games. The Seahawks are also 3-0 all-time against Carolina at CenturyLink Field, including a 34-14 win over the Jake Delhomme/Steve Smith led Panthers in the 2005 NFC Championship Game. There are a lot of storylines to take note of this week. Here is what I will be looking for.

In last season’s divisional playoff game against New Orleans, Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch ran for 140 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries. His effectiveness in the running game allowed the Seahawks to control the tempo of the game and there was never any significant threat of the Saints taking the game over. The same must happen this week. Seattle’s ability to run the ball is crucial this week since they are facing a defense that has not allowed a 100-yard rusher since October 30th (Week 9). If Lynch himself can run for at least 80 yards it will lead me to believe that we can control the clock and control the game. If the Panthers do a solid job stopping the Seahawks running game my number one guy to watch in the passing game is wide receiver Doug Baldwin. In three career games against Carolina he has 189 receiving yards and in his last two games against the Panthers, Baldwin led all Seahawks receivers in receiving yards. In addition to playing on the outside look for Baldwin to spend a lot of time in the slot this week, as quick throws and routes down the seam could be effective.

Just like how the running game is priority number one on offense, stopping the Panthers running game is priority number one on defense. This will be difficult, as Carolina will use feature back Jonathan Stewart and the threat of quarterback Cam Newton scrambling gives the Seahawks an additional element to focus on. The Seahawks have faced Carolina each of the last three seasons. In each of those games I thought there was a serious threat of Newton running wild if the going got tough for the Panthers offense. In each of those games Newton rushed for only 42, 38, and 24 yards respectively. In a playoff situation I think now is as good a time for the Panthers to let Newton run wild if the Seahawks play great defense. Newton’s build and strength will make it difficult to wrap him up and get him to the ground. If there is a player you must keep a close eye on when Carolina has the ball, it is Cam Newton.

Over the past few weeks the Carolina Panthers defense has been playing similarly to how they played all of last season, suffocating. If could be a difficult challenge for the Seahawks to get their offense going as the Panthers sport two tackling machines at the linebacker position in Thomas Davis and pro-bowler Luke Kuechly. Davis and Kuechly have combined for 253 total tackles so far this season, by far the best of any tandem in the NFL. The Panthers do come into this game a bit banged up however, as it was announced Wednesday that starting defensive tackle Star Lotulelei has been placed on injured reserve with a fractured foot. Lotulelei will not play for the rest of the season. As important as Carolina’s front seven is for the Seahawks to be aware of, I will be keeping a close eye on the play of the Panthers secondary. One of Carolina’s starting cornerbacks was inactive when these two teams met back in October so I have decided to put my X-Factor player to watch spotlight on that player, cornerback Bené Benwikere. Benwikere, a 5th round rookie from San Jose State, is a physically small player who has shown he can play big in his limited playing time this season. Benwikere has recorded 24 tackles in 11 games and has also picked off one pass and forced one fumble. Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse will both likely line up across from Benwikere throughout the game and since he did not play in the first meeting, I would not be surprised to see Russell Wilson throw in his direction multiple times in the first half.

This last point cannot be overlooked. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has never played a game at CenturyLink Field. Former Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme, who played in the 2005 NFC Championship Game in Seattle, came out this week stating there is no way to prepare for just how loud the 12th Man is. It had been reported earlier in the week that the Panthers were having serious difficulties handling artificial simulated crowd noise during practice; a serious red flag. Over the past few years we have seen what kind of problems “Clink rookies” have had communicating in the huddle once they get lined up. Colin Kaepernick immediately comes to mind as his 49ers failed terribly at handling the noise in his first game in Seattle in 2012. This week the 12’s need to give everything they have to make life a living hell for Newton. I believe Newton has no idea what he is in for and it will be a harsh reality once kickoff rolls around Saturday night. The Panthers used no huddle for 22 plays last week against Arizona and they will likely use a similar dose of no huddle this week. To the 12th Man, stay loud all game long, even between plays. Our voices could be the difference between advancing to the NFC Championship Game and not.

Random Thoughts: The Panthers will wear all-white with the Seahawks wearing all-blue this week… Kevin Burkhardt and John Lynch have the call for FOX this week. This is not a surprise given the potential ratings of the other NFC Divisional game (Dallas at Green Bay). It makes sense that FOX would send their number one crew of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman to Lambeau for that game instead… The referee this week is Terry McAulay. McAulay officiated the Seahawks divisional round game last season and Super Bowl XLVIII… Saturday is going to be a very long day but I wouldn’t want it any other way. I love primetime football. This is going to be a very special game… The giveaway this week is “We Are 12” rally towels. I love it. Towels should be the giveaway for all playoff games and I am glad to see the Seahawks are fixing their mistake from last season (they gave away 12th Man flags vs. the Saints)… Even though this is an evening kickoff it is the playoffs, and it should be expected that everyone be in their seats by the time pregame ceremonies start. I want to see a full stadium waving their towels as the Seahawks run out of the tunnel… I believe that there is an incredibly strong possibility that former Mariners pitcher and 2015 National Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Randy Johnson will raise the 12th Man flag this week. Don’t believe me? Check out this tweet… One of my favorite postseason traditions is when the Seahawks play Ozzy Osbourne’s “Let Me Hear You Scream” with a video encouraging fans to get loud as the television broadcast is coming back from a TV timeout. If they bring this back on Saturday night I am going to get super super pumped… This week marks the return of the Skittles in section 340. To everyone possibly sitting below me this is your warning to watch out. Streamers will also be making a re-appearance in these playoffs. Let’s make this playoff run a full on raging party in the stands… One win away from the NFC Championship and two victories away from Super Bowl XLIX. It’s on the tips of our fingers.

Prediction: The Panthers and Seahawks will keep this game close until the closing minutes of the first half. With the Seahawks holding a 7-3 lead, Richard Sherman will intercept a Cam Newton pass and Marshawn Lynch will score a touchdown with under one minute remaining in the half, giving the Seahawks a 14-3 halftime lead. The Seahawks will carry that momentum into the second half as they will take the opening kickoff and drive the length of the field, culminating in a Russell Wilson touchdown pass to Doug Baldwin, giving the Seahawks a 21-3 lead. Beast Mode will add one more score in garbage time and the Seahawks will cruise to the NFC Championship to face the Green Bay Packers.

Seahawks 28, Panthers 10

Due to a belated birthday celebration for myself with all of my friends after the game I will not have my game review published until Sunday night most likely. By then we will know who we will face in the NFC Championship Game should we win on Saturday. Check back Sunday night for my take on Saturday’s game. Go Seahawks!

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