Tag Archives: Jeremy Lane

Seahawks/Panthers Preview (NFC Divisional Playoff)

16 Jan
panthers divisional preview 2015

Photo Credit: Seahawks.com

Matchup: (6) Seattle Seahawks at (1) Carolina Panthers

Site: Bank of America Stadium (Charlotte, North Carolina)

Kickoff: 10:05am

We meet again. For the second consecutive season the Seahawks will take on the Carolina Panthers in the NFC Divisional playoffs. This time around however the tables have been turned. The Panthers enter this game after a 15-1 regular season, an NFC South division title, and earning home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. With their win last week the Seahawks advanced to the NFC Divisional round for the fourth straight season but instead of hosting like they did last season they have to travel across the country to take on the Panthers this January. The Seahawks won games against the Panthers in Charlotte in three consecutive seasons from 2012-2014. In their 2015 meeting in Seattle earlier this season however the Panthers bested the Seahawks 27-23. This will be an extremely difficult matchup for the Seahawks but I believe we match up well with what the Panthers will put onto the field. Here is what I will be watching for.

The Marshawn Lynch mystery drags on for at least one more week. The star running back has practiced all week and proclaimed to ESPN that he is “ready to go” but it will come down to a game-time decision if Lynch actually suits up and plays. If Lynch cannot go it will be Christine Michael who starts at running back once again. For the rest of the Seattle offense, much improvement needs to be shown in order to compete with the Panthers on the scoreboard. Quarterback Russell Wilson must improve on his accuracy because there is little doubt the fantastic play of the Minnesota defense last week rattled him. Limiting turnovers will also be a big key in the way this game plays out. Carolina leads the league in turnovers with 39, which are 10 more than any other team. They also lead the league in turnover differential with a mark of +20. The Seahawks offense will need to take the majority of their drives deep into Carolina territory in order to stay in this game.

Many people may not realize this but the Seahawks defense will play this game with a couple of big-name players who did not play against Carolina back in week 6. Back in October K.J Wright moved from outside to inside linebacker in place of Bobby Wagner who missed the game with an injury. This week Wagner will be back starting at middle linebacker and will be a tackling machine in the middle of the field. In 3 career games against the Panthers, Wagner has averaged 7.3 tackles per game and has also sacked Panthers quarterback Cam Newton once. In addition to Wagner, Jeremy Lane will start at cornerback. Cary Williams, who is no longer on the team, started at cornerback against the Panthers earlier this season. Lane’s primary job will be to cover Panthers wide receivers Philly Brown and Devin Funchess. Last week the Seahawks only forced one turnover. If the Seahawks defense can force at least two turnovers in the game we will be in decent shape.

The Carolina Panthers offense is one of the very best in the National Football League. Quarterback Cam Newton is considered to be a most valuable player candidate this season. All year long Newton has had fantastic on-field chemistry with tight end Greg Olsen. Olsen is Newton’s number one target and his numbers correlate to this notion. 26 percent of Newton’s passes were completed to Olsen this season. That percentage translates to 77 catches for 1,104 yards (both team highs) and 7 touchdowns. Olsen’s second best game of the season came against the Seahawks back in October. There is much more to the Carolina offense however and there are two other players whose presences cannot go unnoticed. My X-Factor Players to Watch for the Panthers are Pro Bowl running backs Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert. I put my X-Factor spotlight on these two guys not because of their production on the ground, but the role they can play in the Carolina passing game. Stewart and Tolbert have combined for 253 receiving yards and 4 touchdowns this season. After watching film I see the possibility of Newton targeting these backs on screen passes and wheel routes/rollout passes inside the redzone.

Each level of the Carolina defense features incredible talent. Four Panthers defenders have been named to the Pro Bowl. The middle of the field will be a risky place for Russell Wilson to throw into as the Panthers are led by veteran linebackers and tackling machines Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. Cornerback Josh Norman has had a meteoric rise to being one of the best cornerbacks in the league. His 4 interceptions and team-leading 18 passes defensed defend this reputation. The matchup that may have the most say in the Panthers season continuing on to the NFC Championship Game will be defensive tackle Kawann Short against the Seahawks offensive line. Short recorded 11 sacks this season and is considered one of the best pass rushers in football. Short is averaging one sack in each of his last 5 games and he was also able to bring Russell Wilson down in the backfield twice earlier this year. In short (no pun intended), this Panthers defense is scary good and it will take a monster effort to take them down.

Random Thoughts: At the start of the playoffs I assumed since the Seahawks would have to play three straight road games to get to the Super Bowl, that we would be wearing white throughout January. Instead the Panthers have elected to wear white jerseys and white pants this week. This means the Seahawks will wear college navy jerseys. The Seahawks will pair these jerseys with wolf grey pants. The Seahawks won in this combination in Carolina in both 2012 and 2013… Joe Buck and Troy Aikman have the call for FOX’s only broadcast of Divisional weekend… The referee this week is Tony Corrente… Nothing and I mean NOTHING would make me happier than to see all the Seahawks players “dab” on the sideline and take a group photo if we win. For those not familiar these are the hijinks the Panthers have participated in all season long at the end of their games and it would be a tremendous troll job if the Seahawks came away victorious and stuck up the proverbial middle finger in this way. If this happens look for Michael Bennett and perhaps Richard Sherman to lead the way… Brunch n’ ball for the final time this season. I’m glad this is the final 10am game of the season… Speaking of 10am starts, a random thought unrelated to this game. I am thrilled the Rams have relocated to Los Angeles. We know better than any other city what greed and corruption happens behind the scenes when it comes to franchise relocation (SuperSonics, duh) and from this perspective it is sad to see the Rams leave St. Louis. The reason I am thrilled however is because it benefits the Seahawks. Instead of traveling to the middle of the country each season we will now fly to Southern California. This eliminates one 10am kickoff each season and the Seahawks never have to play at the Edward Jones Dome again. The Seahawks went 7-7 in St. Louis dating back to 2002. Instead these road games against the Rams will be played at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the next three seasons which is a stadium not known for having an intimidating home field advantage. It is still a little weird to see “Los Angeles Rams” in print. It will take a little while to get used to.

Prediction: The Seahawks have lost 6 straight Divisional playoff games played on the road. Although I hope I am wrong I believe that streak continues on Sunday. The first half will be an entertaining defensive battle with Carolina taking a 13-10 lead into halftime. In the second half however the Panthers defense will shut the Seahawks offense down. Carolina will score a touchdown (with a missed extra point), and two field goals on their first three possessions of the second half. The Seahawks will have opportunities to claw back into the game but Russell Wilson will throw two interceptions and the Carolina defense will also force a fumble near the end of the third quarter. The Seahawks season will end and the Panthers will move on and host the Arizona Cardinals in next week’s NFC Championship Game.

Panthers 25, Seahawks 13

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Review: Seahawks 36, Cardinals 6

3 Jan
cardinals review 2015 #2

Photo Credit: Seahawks.com

To be honest I thought we had a very slim chance to win this game. Instead the Seahawks dominated all three phases of the game and delivered an even worse beat down to the Arizona Cardinals than last year’s matchup at University of Phoenix Stadium. I could not be happier to be wrong. The Seahawks ended the regular season on a high note, defeating the Cardinals 36-6 in a game that was never really that close. The Seahawks finish the 2015 regular season 10-6 and will face either the Minnesota Vikings or the Washington Redskins in next week’s Wild-Card playoff game. The Cardinals finish their regular season 13-3 and are locked into the #2 seed in the NFC. They will host a Divisional round playoff game in two weeks. Here now are some brief thoughts about today’s game, as well as my thoughts as we head into the second season.

Bouncing Back and Breaking Records: Although quarterback Russell Wilson only threw for 197 yards, he had yet another three touchdown/no interception day. Wilson completed 68 percent of his passes and had a passer rating of 123.7. Keep in mind he was pulled from the game after only 3 quarters. Wilson also broke two Seahawks records on Sunday. He broke Dave Krieg’s single-season touchdown pass record, ending his regular season with 34 touchdown passes. Wilson also became the first quarterback in franchise history to throw for over 4,000 yards in a season. I am extremely confident in Wilson’s ability to win in the postseason as we enter next week. What will help is the possible return of running back Marshawn Lynch. Wilson has been putting up stats and winning games without a running game. Add Lynch into the fold and even without a weapon like Jimmy Graham our offense now becomes perhaps the strongest it’s been all season.

Defense Forces Turnovers: Jeremy Lane, Earl Thomas, and DeShawn Shead all recorded interceptions on Sunday which gave the Seahawks a +3 turnover differential on the day. Turnovers and the ability to stop Arizona on third down were my two pregame defensive keys and our defense did a tremendous job making both these things happen effectively. The Cardinals finished the day with a third down conversion percentage of 41.6. There was one thing that worried me early on, when the Cardinals had the ball 3rd and 10 in the first quarter. The Seahawks rushed only three guys and Carson Palmer had a clean pocket to work with. He connected with Larry Fitzgerald for 11 yards and a first down. The Seahawks then changed their blitz packages for the rest of the game and rushed no more than 4 guys on any given Arizona third down opportunity. I was glad to see Kris Richard and the defense adjust as the game went on in order to maximize our chances to get the ball back.

Thoughts on Lockett: Today is yet another example of why the Seahawks traded three draft picks to move up in order to draft Tyler Lockett back in May. Lockett became the first player since 2002 to return three punts for at least 30 yards on Sunday. His 139 return yards on the day is the best single-game punt return total for Lockett all season. It really surprised me to see Cardinals punter Drew Butler continually kicking to Lockett. I would have thought after Lockett’s second punt return Arizona may want to start punting the ball out of bounds. Big punt returns will go to great lengths in helping Seattle advance in the playoffs. Let’s hope Lockett keeps this up.

Thoughts on Arizona: Going into this game I thought that if the Seahawks playoff run was going to end short of Super Bowl 50, it would end in Glendale at the hands of the Arizona Cardinals, most likely in a potential NFC Championship Game. After today however, those fears have been erased. Although we steamrolled the Cardinals, more importantly we proved that this team is definitely beatable in Arizona. The Cardinals are a much better team than their effort today showed. This team is still a serious Super Bowl contender and if the Seahawks can stay hot I think there is a very good chance we will be heading back to Glendale later this month.

Random Thoughts: There is something magical about our wolf grey uniforms. We are now 7-0 all-time wearing this combination and we have won those 7 games by an average of 16 points… Cardinals fans seemed to do a better job drowning out the blue and green this season. At the beginning of the game the presence of the 12’s in Arizona wasn’t very noticeable and there was more red in the stands then in prior matchups. Of course, that went away by halftime when the Seahawks had a commanding lead. By the time the game ended it was all Seahawks fans on the lower level it looked like… It’s now playoff time! This is going to be a very fun week(s).

What’s Next: Like I previously noted, the Seahawks will play the Minnesota Vikings or the Washington Redskins next weekend in the Wild-Card round. If the Seahawks are scheduled to play on Saturday, look out for my Wild-Card game preview on Friday morning. If we are scheduled to play Sunday, my preview will be published on Saturday morning.

Seahawks/Cardinals Preview

2 Jan
cardinals preview 2015 #2

Photo Credit: Seahawks.com

Matchup: Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals

Site: University of Phoenix Stadium (Glendale, Arizona)

Kickoff: 1:25pm

Last week there was a possibility that this game would not matter to either the Seattle Seahawks or the Arizona Cardinals. However after losses by the Seahawks and the Carolina Panthers and wins by the Cardinals and Minnesota Vikings, the regular season finale in the desert is now extremely important for both teams. The Seahawks head to Arizona for the first time since the disastrous ending to Super Bowl XLIX as they take on the NFC West champion Cardinals. The Seahawks are 9-6 and with a win they will have won 10 or more games in each of the last 4 seasons. The Cardinals are 13-2, winners of nine straight games, and arguably the best team in football. Arizona leads the all-time series against the Seahawks 17-16. In their previous meeting earlier this season the Cardinals beat the Seahawks in Seattle on Sunday Night Football 39-32. Here is what both teams have to do in order to head into the playoffs on the right foot.

Against the Rams a week ago the Seahawks finished the day -3 in turnover differential. The only way the Seahawks can win this game from an offensive perspective is to take care of the ball. It will be a difficult challenge because the Cardinals have forced 33 turnovers this season, good for second-best in the league. What worries me is how panicked Russell Wilson may play if the running game cannot get going and the Seahawks face a deficit late in the game, much like how last week’s game played out. Note though that Wilson has thrown only one interception since these two teams last played on November 15th. If the Seahawks can also control time of possession it will put us in a comfortable position for later on in the game. If the Seahawks can keep their offense on the field and if they win the turnover battle, this game will absolutely be winnable.

Much like how time of possession is an area of importance on offense, the same can be said of defense. The way to win T.O.P. on defense is to force Arizona into punts, and in order to force punts you need to stop them on third down. The Cardinals are the best team in the league on third down this season, converting nearly half of their third down opportunities (47.3 percent). The only way the Seahawks will be successful in getting the Cardinals off the field on third down is to put constant pressure on quarterback Carson Palmer. Over the course of this season the Seahawks have been very hot and cold when it comes to pressuring the quarterback. Bruce Irvin will have to have a big impact from the outside linebacker spot and he will be a dark horse player in the game if he can successfully penetrate Arizona’s stout offensive line.

All season long the Arizona Cardinals have done an incredible job creating explosive plays. With the Cardinals still using a running back by committee since the injury to Chris Johnson, the game will be won through the air. I expect to see Carson Palmer target wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald more than any other receiver since he is the best short and intermediate threat Arizona has on the offensive side of the ball. If Kam Chancellor remains sidelined I expect head coach Bruce Arians and offensive coordinator James Bettcher to dial up several long passes down the field. If this is the case the speedy John Brown could be primed for a big game, as he will likely line up across from either DeShawn Shead or Jeremy Lane. Also keep an eye on Michael Floyd who could also have the opportunity to get loose with Richard Sherman likely covering Fitzgerald.

My number one focus on defense for the Cardinals is how the secondary will fare for the second straight week without safety Tyrann Mathieu. With Deone Bucannon likely moving from linebacker back to safety to fill in for Mathieu more will be required of the other three starters in Arizona’s secondary. Specifically I will be watching how the middle of the field will covered without the “honey badger” on the field. My X-Factor Player to Watch for the Cardinals is their other starting safety, Rashad Johnson. Although he missed last week’s game against Green Bay Johnson has recorded 48 tackles this season, sixth among all Arizona defenders. The scariest number that jumps out on Johnson’s stat sheet is his team-high 5 interceptions. If the Seahawks throw the ball in the middle of the field look for Johnson to be in on each play. If the Cardinals can record multiple turnovers they will have an excellent chance to come away with the victory.

Random Thoughts: The Seahawks will break out the wolf grey uniforms for the second time this season. We are 6-0 all-time in this look. The Cardinals are eligible to wear their black alternate jerseys but I would not be surprised to see them wear all red instead… This week’s game has been picked to be “America’s Game of the Week” on FOX. Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, and Erin Andrews have the call… This week’s referee is second-year white hat Brad Allen… I hope the field is in good shape. University of Phoenix Stadium hosted the Fiesta Bowl on Friday afternoon so it is possible the field will be beat up. Luckily the Cardinals are one of the best teams in terms of getting their field prepared for a game. They’ll probably roll the field outside, work on it and let it sit in the sun tomorrow, then wheel it back into the building early Sunday morning… It feels a little strange to have regular season football being played after the new year. This is the first Seahawks regular season game played in January in 4 years (2011 season finale in Arizona)… If the Seahawks win I will be cheering like crazy for Green Bay in the Sunday night game. If Seattle loses I’ll be cheering like crazy for Minnesota instead. This is going to be a fun and wild ending to the regular season.

Seahawks Playoff Outlook: There are 4 different possible scenarios that can play out on Sunday, one of which will determine who the Seahawks will play in next week’s wild-card playoff game. It will depend on who wins this game AND who wins the Sunday Night Football game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Green Bay Packers. Here are the possibilities for next week’s wild-card game:

At Minnesota: Seahawks loss + Vikings win OR Seahawks win + Vikings win

At Washington: Seahawks win + Packers win

At Green Bay: Seahawks loss + Packers win

Prediction: If the NFL hadn’t flexed the Carolina Panthers game to 1:25pm I think there would be a better chance the Seahawks would come away victorious. However since Carolina and Arizona now play at the same time both teams will play at full strength to try to earn the number one seed in the NFC. Carson Palmer will throw for three touchdowns and the Arizona defense will force three turnovers. The Seahawks running game will be extremely inefficient for the second straight week. The Seahawks will finish the season 9-7, stumbling into the playoffs, and we will get ready for our wild-card game against the Green Bay Packers next week.

Cardinals 31, Seahawks 17

Review: Seahawks 39, Steelers 30

29 Nov
steelers review 2015

Photo Credit: Seahawks.com

Last week the Seahawks were fueled by rookie power. This week it was the veterans who stepped up huge. Doug Baldwin caught a career high 3 touchdowns and Jermaine Kearse added a pair of touchdown catches to help propel the Seahawks to a much-needed 39-30 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. The win gives the Seahawks a 6-5 record, their first winning record of the season. It was great to see the Seahawks finally close out a close game in the fourth quarter after it looked like Pittsburgh would make a late charge. Here is what I took out of Sunday’s victory.

Happy Birthday Russell: On his 27th birthday Russell Wilson went out and had the best game he could have possibly asked for. Wilson completed 21 of his 30 passes for 345 yards and 5 touchdowns. The best part? He did not turn the ball over once. Seattle’s offensive line did a tremendous job protecting Wilson. It also felt like the offensive game plan was designed to help Russell out in the pocket, meaning he may not have had as many progressions on each play which is a big factor in how long Wilson holds onto the ball. Wilson was also able to do something that has not been done all season. The Seahawks trailed two separate times in the fourth quarter and we were able to score 19 points in the final frame to re-take the lead twice and hold on to it. Our offense as a whole had played their best game of the season and could provide some serious momentum moving forward.

The Good News and the Bad News: The good news is that the Seahawks finished the game +4 in the turnover department. Those four turnovers, all of which interceptions, led to three Seahawks touchdowns. As much as I want to praise the Legion of Boom for forcing these turnovers, the bad news is that the Seahawks defense gave up 480 yards through the air and 538 total yards. According to this statistical category it was the worst outing for our defense all season. A lack of a pass rush directly contributed to our defensive struggles. In my game preview I emphasized the importance of putting pressure on Ben Roethlisberger or else he would have time to make deep throws, something which he thrives on. Roethlisberger threw deep several times on Sunday including a high-arching 69-yard touchdown pass to Markus Wheaton. I think DeShawn Shead played a decent game in place of the inactive Cary Williams and it would not surprise me to see him start in Williams’s place once again next week.

Graham’s Injury and Moving Forward: The Seahawks were dealt a huge blow in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game. Russell Wilson threw a 24-yard pass to the back corner of the endzone intended for Jimmy Graham. Graham fell to the ground and immediately grabbed his right knee. After the game it was reported Graham tore his right patellar tendon, an injury that will require surgery and end his 2015 season. Many people have gotten on Graham’s case for not being the offensive machine he was in New Orleans but keep in mind that entering Sunday’s game Graham led all Seahawks receivers in receiving yards. Luke Willson will start in Graham’s place for the rest of the season and Cooper Helfet will likely see expanded playing time. As devastating this injury is I believe it is positive to stay optimistic. The Seahawks scored touchdowns on all three drives following Graham’s injury. Perhaps with Graham out some of our offensive chemistry from last season will be rediscovered.

Thoughts on Pittsburgh: The Pittsburgh Steelers offense can be one of the best in the league but if they want to compete for a wild-card spot their defense must play better than they did on Sunday. Unfortunately a lot of their talent is young which may not translate to a deep playoff run. This team is good enough to make the playoffs now but I would wait a couple more years before I would consider them legitimate super bowl contenders.

Random Thoughts: I was surprised that the fog did not completely burn off this afternoon. Sitting in the 300 level, I love when it is foggy because since you cannot see any surrounding buildings it feels like the stadium is in its very own cloud… There were way too many terrible towels but only a couple around me fortunately. No incidents between Steelers and Seahawks fans in my close vicinity also so that was good… Let me talk for a minute about that Steelers fake field goal/pooch punt formation/pass which was executed horribly and intercepted by Jeremy Lane. What in the world was that?! Why are you going for a fake that early in the game? A field goal would have given the Steelers a 6-0 lead but instead it led to Seattle’s first touchdown and a 7-3 Seahawks lead. Good on Lane for not biting and staying with eligible receiver Alejandro Villanueva on the outside. Worst play call I have seen from any team all season… NBA hall of famer and former SuperSonic Spencer Haywood raised the 12 flag on Sunday. I love when they honor former Sonics because it feels like they are keeping the spirit of the Sonics franchise alive… Two huge road games coming up. Two must-wins. Minnesota’s first up.

Seahawks Playoff Outlook: With the Seahawks win and losses by Atlanta and Tampa Bay, the Seahawks currently hold the #6 seed in the NFC Playoffs. The Seahawks are 3 games behind the Arizona Cardinals for first place in the NFC West.

What’s Next: Look for my preview of next week’s crucial game against the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday morning.

Steelers/Seahawks Preview

28 Nov

 

steelers preview 2015

The Seahawks host the Pittsburgh Steelers for the first time since Super Bowl XL. Screenshot from Youtube.com

Matchup: Pittsburgh Steelers at Seattle Seahawks

Site: CenturyLink Field (Seattle, Washington)

Kickoff: 1:25pm

On February 5th, 2006 the Seahawks played in their very first Super Bowl, Super Bowl XL in Detroit. We were the NFC champions and we faced off against the Pittsburgh Steelers. In what felt to be a Steelers home game, the Seahawks lost their first chance to win the Lombardi Trophy. Steelers 21, Seahawks 10. The game will forever be remembered for several questionable officiating gaffs which many Seahawks fans still believe may have cost us a championship. Ever since the 12’s have had a justified hatred of the Pittsburgh Steelers. On Sunday, 3,585 days later, comes the home game Seahawks fans have been waiting for ever since. The 6-4 Steelers make their first trip to CenturyLink Field since Super Bowl XL to take on the 5-5 Seattle Seahawks. Pittsburgh leads the all-time series with the Seahawks 9-8 including 21-0 and 24-0 Steelers shutouts in our last two meetings in 2007 and 2011 respectively. The last time the Seahawks scored on the Steelers was Jerramy Stevens’s touchdown in Super Bowl XL. This game could have significant playoff implications for both teams. This is what I will be watching for.

If there is one thing I am always looking for from the Seahawks offense it is consistency. Running back Marshawn Lynch will not play again this week so Thomas Rawls will see the majority of the carries for the second straight week. Unlike San Francisco which sports the 27th ranked run defense in the league, Pittsburgh comes into this week’s game as the 5th best run defense. Rawls may have a difficult time getting going and I certainly do not expect him to put up the record-breaking numbers of a week ago. Note however that Rawls leads the league in yards per carry with an average of 6 YPC. If Rawls can run for at least 80 yards I believe the Seahawks will be in good shape. You cannot count on Rawls alone to carry the offense. I want to see the same type of good decision making from quarterback Russell Wilson that made our passing game wildly effective last week. In our 5 wins this season Wilson has thrown only 3 interceptions. Pittsburgh is good at forcing turnovers. So far this season the Steelers have 18 takeaways including a +5 giveaway/takeaway ratio which is tied for 6th best in the league. The Seahawks can and will win this game if Wilson takes care of the ball.

During last week’s win cornerback Cary Williams was benched in favor of DeShawn Shead, who made 4 tackles and forced two fumbles. With Jeremy Lane activated from the physically unable to perform list, I believe we will see change at Williams’s spot against the Steelers. Head coach Pete Carroll said on Monday that there would be an open competition for the right cornerback job during practice this week. If Williams starts expect him to be on a short leash with Shead and Lane sharing playing time if Williams struggles. If Williams does not start altogether I expect Shead to get the nod since it is likely the Seahawks would like to ease Lane into the defensive game plan. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger averages 315 passing yards per game so the Legion of Boom will surely be tested this week. In addition, opposing quarterbacks have a 120.6 passer rating when throwing towards Cary Williams. Being able to cover deep passes will be huge, as Pittsburgh likes to throw deep. As a skilled veteran, it would be no surprise at all to see Roethlisberger test Williams, Shead, or Lane early and often.

The Pittsburgh Steelers offense is a unit that has changed quite a bit over the years. The one constant is quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who will be playing in his first career game at CenturyLink Field. My focus for the Steelers offense is how well they handle the crowd noise as well as Roethlisberger’s pass protection. The Steelers will start two offensive linemen who did not start the season with the first group. Left tackle Alejandro Villanueva will have a big test in front of him as he will line up across from Cliff Avril, who has been on fire as of late. Center Cody Wallace is a 6-year veteran who has been playing in place of Maurkice Pouncey all season. If the Seahawks can put pressure on Roethlisberger it will take away the most effective facet of his game, stepping up and throwing the deep ball. Wide receivers Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, and Markus Wheaton will all make a major impact this week if Roethlisberger has time to go through his progressions. Look for Big Ben to throw several deep passes on Sunday.

The Steelers have lost many big names on the defensive side of the ball since the last time these two teams played. Gone are the days of Joey Porter and Troy Polamalu and the Steelers have replaced these names and more with great talent. Veterans James Harrison and William Gay have made a big impact this season, combining for 60 tackles. Rookie Bud Dupree leads all Steelers defenders in sacks with 4. I will be focused on the guy who statistically has had the best season of any defensive player. My X-Factor Player to Watch for the Steelers this week is inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons. Timmons has locked down the middle of the field for Pittsburgh since 2007 and although he is a seasoned veteran his numbers are very impressive. Timmons leads the team in tackles with 73. He can also rush the passer which could make for a long day for Seahawks linemen Justin Britt and Patrick Lewis. Timmons can also drop back into coverage. He has recorded 6 passes defensed and one interception. If Russell Wilson decides to throw short or intermediate passes expect Timmons to be in on the play.

Random Thoughts: All navy once again for the Seahawks uniform wise. The Steelers will wear white jerseys and yellow pants… This is the national game of the week on CBS and the entire country except for the San Francisco Bay Area will be able to see this game on local television. Jim Nantz and Phil Simms have the call with Tracy Wolfson patrolling the sidelines… The referee will be Walt Anderson… The gameday giveaway is flags which will be distributed to the first 44,000 fans… Don’t fall asleep again this year Alan. I don’t want to see a repeat of what happened last year… I am expecting to be disappointed in regards to the number of Pittsburgh fans in attendance. Steelers fans probably travel the best of any NFL franchise… To those attending please be smart when engaging with opposing fans. I know it may be difficult to holster any trash talk towards Steelers fans given our bad blood towards their franchise… I am kind of surprised there hasn’t been any news this week bringing up Super Bowl XL and specifically what kind of ovation the Steelers will likely receive upon running out of the tunnel… I have been waiting years to have the opportunity to boo this team. I will certainly savor every second.

Prediction: Expect a nerve-racking back-and-forth game. The Seahawks will have a 23-21 lead with 5 minutes left to play. Ben Roethlisberger will lead a Steelers drive deep into Seahawks territory but will have to settle for a Chris Boswell field goal. With the Steelers leading 24-23 the Seahawks will have one last opportunity to drive into field goal range to win the game. Two big gains by Thomas Rawls and a huge completion from Russell Wilson to Tyler Lockett will put Seattle inside the Pittsburgh 35-yard line. Steven Hauschka will knock through a game winning 50-yard field goal with only seconds remaining. The Seahawks will improve to 6-5 and will lock down their first winning record of the season.

Seahawks 26, Steelers 24

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!