Tag Archives: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Review: Panthers 31, Seahawks 24

17 Jan
Jonathan Stewart

Photo Credit: NFL.com

There is no doubt the Seattle Seahawks showed a tremendous amount of heart on Sunday. Unfortunately at the end of the day the deficit was too big and time was too little. The 2015 campaign comes to a close as the Carolina Panthers defeat the Seahawks 31-24, eliminating Seattle and advancing to next week’s NFC Championship Game against the Arizona Cardinals. The NFC will be represented in the Super Bowl by a team other than the Seahawks for the first time since 2012. For this preview I will break the game down into two huge chunks, the frustrating disaster that was the first half, and the incredible comeback which fueled the second half. Here are my final thoughts of the 2015 season.

The First Half: The Seahawks spotted the Panthers 31 points going into the halftime break. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong and both the Seattle offense and defense were to blame. On the very first play of the game Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart broke through into the Legion of Boom and galloped all the way down to the Seattle 16-yard line, a gain of 59 yards. This set up a Stewart touchdown run 3 plays later giving the Panthers a 7-0 lead only two and a half minutes into the game. On the Seahawks first possession of the game Carolina stole away any momentum the Seahawks were trying to muster and held a tight grasp on it for the rest of the half. On second down Russell Wilson felt immediate pressure and forced a pass to the middle of the field in the direction of Marshawn Lynch. Lynch had yet to turn around and Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly intercepted the pass and ran it in for a touchdown. 14-0 Panthers less than three and a half minutes into the game. After a Seahawks punt the Panthers drove down the field and scored again on a Stewart 1-yard touchdown run. 21-0 Panthers. On the first play of Seattle’s next possession Wilson felt rushed again and threw a low pass which was intercepted by Cortland Finnegan. A Carolina field goal made it 24-0 Panthers with 12:37 left in the second quarter. The nightmare continued on Carolina’s next possession. After a Seahawks punt the Panthers drove 54 yards in 9 plays culminating with a 19-yard touchdown pass from Cam Newton to Greg Olsen. The Seahawks went into the halftime break down 31-0, their largest deficit in a game since 2010.

I noticed a few things in the first half that drove me crazy, some which we could control and others we really could not. For starters as the score went up I felt like our defense started to play panicked and tried to force their play. What I mean by this is instead of good fundamental tackling we would try to force takeaways by forcing the ball out which at times helped Carolina gain extra yards. Third down defense was also a problem, as Carolina converted 71 percent of their third down chances in the first half. On offense I found quarterback pressures and hurries to be particularly frustrating. One of the best facets of Russell Wilson’s game is his escapability and he did not do a good job of creating plays in the first half. He felt too comfortable in the pocket and trusted his offensive line almost to a fault. I also believe Wilson and the Seahawks offense discounted the speed of the Panthers defense. They absolutely swarmed him and ate him up in the first half, leading to two turnovers and a sack. The field also did not do the Seahawks any favors either. Players were slipping, sliding, and falling down throughout pregame warmups which led to harsh criticism which was discussed on the FOX broadcast in the early part of the game. Marshawn Lynch looked particularly uncomfortable playing on that sloppy surface, especially since the majority of his success running the ball depends on him being able to be shifty and cut sharply on the turf.

The Second Half: My hope was that if the Seahawks could somehow score 21 points in the third quarter to cut the Panthers lead to 10, we could put ourselves in position to potentially make the greatest comeback in NFL playoffs history a reality. For a time it looked like it might be doable. The Seahawks adjusted wonderfully coming out of the halftime break and came out firing. On the first offensive possession of the second half the Seahawks were set up thanks to a 50-yard kick return by Tyler Lockett. A personal foul by Carolina on the kickoff gave the Seahawks an additional 15 yards. On the fourth play of the drive Wilson connected with Jermaine Kearse for a touchdown. After forcing the Panthers to punt the Seahawks took their next drive all the way down the field resulting in a touchdown pass to Lockett. Halfway through the third quarter the Seahawks were only 7 points away from my goal. It was 31-14 Carolina. At the pace we were going I thought an epic comeback was a real possibility at this point but after our next drive resulted in a punt it started to feel like it was going to be extremely difficult. The Seahawks got the ball back with 9:34 left in the game and we drove down the field to score a touchdown in 3 minutes and 28 seconds. With just over 6 minutes left in the game, two timeouts, needing two scores, and the Panthers getting the ball again the blueprint was set in terms of what we needed to do; force a Carolina punt, score, recover an onside kick, and score again. Step one was completed after Carolina held the ball for another 3 minutes. The Seahawks got the ball back with 2:49 left and kicked a field goal cutting the deficit to 7 with the clock reading 1:12. Just like last year’s NFC Championship Game, the Seahawks season continuing depended on recovering an onside kick. Steven Hauschka’s onside attempt was a good one but the ball was caught and held on to by Thomas Davis, sealing the victory for the Carolina Panthers.

It was a gritty, heartwarming effort. The Seahawks were dead to rights and the resolve this team showed shows exactly why we are able to be competitive in any game we play. No deficit is too big for this team and we came one score shy of tying or perhaps even winning the game. Hindsight is 20/20, but if the Seahawks would have been able to kick a field goal in the first half (either Hausckha’s miss at the end of the first half or deciding to kick a field goal instead of going for it on 4th and 5 late in the first half) and if Wilson would not have thrown one of his two interceptions there is a real possibility we are talking about a Seahawks victory instead. At the end of the day, turnovers may have been the primary culprit, which is what I was wary of in my game preview.

Thoughts on Carolina: This is a defense-driven football team and they are extremely good. With today’s performance I now am questioning whether or not the Seahawks have the best defense in the league. If not, that title definitely belongs to the Panthers. They will host the Cardinals next week and if they play exactly like how they did today, it will be the Carolina Panthers representing the NFC in Super Bowl 50. I look forward to playing the Panthers next season, arguably the best opponent we will play at CenturyLink Field in 2016.

Random Thoughts: The Seahawks will pick 25th, 26th, or 27th in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft. The pick better be used on the best offensive lineman available… The 2016 schedule will be released in April but here are our opponents next season. Home games at CenturyLink Field: Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers, Carolina Panthers, Atlanta Falcons, Philadelphia Eagles, Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins. On the road: Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots, New York Jets… 37 days until the start of the NFL Scouting Combine and 102 days until the NFL Draft.

Thank you guys once again for logging on and reading this season. It always means a lot to me that you read and care about what I write. On to 2016. Go Seahawks!

Browns/Seahawks Preview

19 Dec
browns preview 2015

Photo Credit: seattlepi.com

Matchup: Cleveland Browns at Seattle Seahawks

Site: CenturyLink Field (Seattle, Washington)

Kickoff: 1:05pm

The Cleveland Browns are one of three NFL teams I have never seen play live. After Sunday that number decreases to two. On Sunday the Browns visit Seattle for the first time since 2003 when they take on the Seahawks. Talk about a tale of two teams. The Seahawks are soaring, sitting at 8-5 on the season and are currently on a 4-game winning streak. The Browns on the other hand are 3-10 and are one of a small handful of teams vying for the number one overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. The all-time series between these teams is 11-6 in favor of the Seahawks. This record includes the seasons prior to the Browns being reborn as an expansion franchise in 1999. Our last meeting with Cleveland in 2011 remains one of the hardest Seahawks games I have ever watched. With Charlie Whitehurst making only his third career start at quarterback, the Seahawks were inept at moving the ball on offense. Amazingly Cleveland was not much better yet they edged the Seahawks by a score of 6-3. Here is what I will be watching for in this week’s game.

Of course the number one question everyone has been asking the past few days is “who is going to start at running back?” There are more questions that still need to be answered however. What kind of split will our offense have in regards to running vs. passing? Will Russell Wilson take more initiative trying to move the ball on the ground? Are we going to abandon the run altogether? I am going to try my best to answer these questions right now. I would not be surprised to see Fred Jackson start at running back and see the majority of the work especially since the Seahawks released DuJuan Harris earlier this week. Christine Michael, who was cut by the Seahawks and spent limited time with the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins this season, was re-signed on Wednesday. Bryce Brown was also re-signed after a cup of coffee with the team earlier in the year but has a limited understanding of our playbook. Both Michael and Brown have had issues fumbling the ball over the course of their careers so they may be on an equally short leash. As far as our offensive balance goes I think we will stick to establishing the run early on. If the running back, whoever it may be, struggles to move the ball efficiently I think we could see Russell Wilson throwing way more than we are accustomed to. Read option is a possibility but Cleveland is an opponent that can be beat without having to use read option a lot. I think the threat of read-option keepers by Wilson are best kept hidden until January. The only way the Seahawks would abandon the run entirely is if we are trailing late in the game when we would be forced to throw the ball.

Let’s talk about the Cleveland Browns offense. This is a squad that ranks in bottom three rushing units in all of football but are ranked 11th in passing yards per game, mainly because they trail in all their games and are forced to throw the ball. After gaining the starting job then losing it due to off-the-field troubles, the Browns will once again start second year quarterback Johnny Manziel. Manziel has focused on making more conservative passes and his completion percentages of 73.3 and 67.7 percent the past two weeks respectively speak towards this notion. Because of this he does not throw many interceptions (3 total this season). Travis Benjamin is Cleveland’s bang-or-bust weapon down the field and he leads all Browns receivers in targets the past two weeks with 18.  My focus will be on the Browns most consistent receiver. My X-Factor Player to Watch for the Cleveland Browns is tight end Gary Barnidge. Barnidge signed a lucrative three-year contract extension last week and he is well deserving of it. Barnidge is no doubt a game changer and has been one of the lone bright spots on a porous Browns team. He leads the team with 901 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns. Barnidge will see his share of receptions this week and given the Seahawks struggles with tight ends there is potential for him to have yet another big day on Sunday.

The Browns defense ranks near the bottom of the league in yards allowed per game but they feature some talented players. Their defensive line is led by defensive end Desmond Bryant but keep an eye on rookie nose tackle Danny Shelton who will have a big impact in shutting down the Seahawks running game. Veteran linebackers Paul Kruger and Karlos Dansby lead the second level of the defense. The secondary is a unit that has big play potential but they have been unable to stay healthy as a unit. Cornerback Joe Haden is on injured reserve and will miss the rest of the season after suffering a concussion in week 8. Justin Gilbert, the 8th overall pick by the Browns a season ago, has become irrelevant and if you asked Browns fans they might tell you he is not even worth a roster spot. With former Packer Tramon Williams leading the defense with 9 passes defensed and third on the team in tackles with 47, it will be up to left corner Charles Gaines to have a big game because it is likely Russell Wilson will test him often.

This week could be a huge week for the 12’s. Johnny Manziel has never played at CenturyLink Field and I have a strange feeling in my gut that he is the most likely quarterback to fail miserably at handling our crowd noise in recent years. I have never made a prediction as to how many false starts the opposing team will have but I strongly believe the Browns will have at least 5 false start penalties on Sunday, which would be the most of any opposing team in 2015.

Random Thoughts: The Seahawks will go all college navy at home. No surprise there. The Browns redesigned their uniforms over the offseason and they now have three different jersey, pant, and sock colors (white, brown, and orange). This week they will go with a clean look: White jerseys, white pants, and brown socks… For the second straight week Thom Brennaman, Charles Davis, and Tony Siragusa are on the FOX broadcast. I hope fans sitting close to the field give Siragusa a hard time about the whole “Russell Williams” incident last week. He’ll be sure to say his name right this week. Wouldn’t be surprised if he brings it up on the broadcast either… Gene Steratore is the referee… I’m taking a friend of mine to the game who I went to school with but currently lives in San Francisco. He is driving home and is currently on the road as we speak. Hopefully he’s not too tired for a full day down at the stadium tomorrow… 1:05pm start this week so for those attending make sure you make it into the stadium a little earlier than normal… My goal was to have my Christmas shopping done and my presents wrapped by the time this game rolled around. Mission accomplished.

Seahawks Playoff Outlook: There are numerous scenarios that involve the Seahawks clinching a playoff spot this week. The easiest of which I will discuss here. With the Rams win over Tampa Bay on Thursday night, the Seahawks can clinch a playoff spot with a win AND a loss by either the New York Giants or Washington Redskins. With a win Seattle will also maintain the #5 seed in the NFC playoffs. The Seahawks fall to the #6 seed if they lose and the Minnesota Vikings win. The Arizona Cardinals clinch the NFC West with a win over Philadelphia Sunday night or if the Seahawks lose. Here are the games to keep track of. Teams to note are bolded.

Carolina (13-0) at New York Giants (6-7)

Buffalo (6-7) at Washington (6-7)

Chicago (5-8) at Minnesota (8-5)

Arizona (11-2) at Philadelphia (6-7)

Prediction: This game is going to get ugly fast. Russell Wilson will throw 4 touchdown passes and Christine Michael will also run for a touchdown. The Browns only score will come in garbage time when Johnny Manziel hits Travis Benjamin for a touchdown. The Seahawks will clinch a playoff spot by the end of the day and we will head into the Christmas week with a 9-5 record.

Seahawks 38, Browns 7

Seahawks/Ravens Preview

12 Dec
ravens preview 2015

Photo Credit: Seahawks.com

Matchup: Seattle Seahawks at Baltimore Ravens

Site: M&T Bank Stadium (Baltimore, Maryland)

Kickoff: 10:00am

Before the regular season started I picked the Baltimore Ravens to represent the AFC in Super Bowl 50. With this game originally scheduled for Sunday Night Football many people including me thought this game could shape the postseason picture for both teams. As it turns out only the Seahawks are vying for playoff position heading into this week. Seattle heads to Baltimore for the first time since 2003 to take on the Ravens. After a 38-7 thrashing of the Minnesota Vikings last week the Seahawks are 7-5 and are in prime position to make a serious push for the #5 seed in the NFC. The Ravens however struggled out of the gate and never recovered. Poor play and a wide array of injuries to key players have put the Ravens at 4-8 on the season. The all-time series between these teams is tied 2-2 with Seattle taking the last two meetings. These two teams last met in Seattle in 2011 where the Seahawks upset the Ravens 22-17. Here is what I will be watching out for in this game.

The main offensive key for the Seahawks this week is to remain consistent in order to carry over the success from last week. In the games we have won in recent weeks the running game led by Thomas Rawls has been superb. The Seahawks will likely establish the run again but it is only a matter of time before Rawls has an off game. Could this week could be that game? Baltimore ranks 10th in run defense allowing only 97.5 rushing yards per game. This may be a game where Russell Wilson has to do more through the air to score points instead of relying on Rawls for big pickups. With the emergence of wide receiver Doug Baldwin as Wilson’s go-to target over the past two weeks it would not surprise me to see Baldwin receive extra coverage from the Ravens secondary. This should open up looks for our other receivers. With the Ravens only allowing 39 yards receiving to tight ends per game look for Jermaine Kearse to make a significant impact in the passing game.

This could be a fairly easy day for the Seattle defense. We will not be facing regular Ravens starters Joe Flacco, Justin Forsett, and Steve Smith. There are two keys to victory on defense I will be focusing on. The first will be to put pressure on whichever Ravens quarterback starts. I believe the slightest bit of pressure will throw either Matt Schaub or Jimmy Clausen off and he could be more prone to forcing the ball and throwing bad passes. The second key is to make sure we tackle well and do not give up yards after contact. With a backup quarterback comes the very high probability of them throwing a lot of high percentage passes. High percentage passes means the ball carrier or receiver will have space to make big plays potentially happen. Look for linebackers K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner to make a huge impact in the middle of the field.

Like I previously mentioned the Baltimore Ravens have one of the more depleted offenses in the league. On the offensive side of the ball running back Javorius “Buck” Allen will have to have a big game to take the pressure off of either Matt Schaub or Jimmy Clausen in the passing game. If Baltimore has any shot to win this week it will come on the shoulders of an extremely impressive defensive performance. Similarly to the Pittsburgh Steelers a couple weeks ago, the Ravens have lost dynamic leaders on the defensive side of the ball over the past few years. Future hall of famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are gone. All-Pro linebacker Terrell Suggs is also injured and out for the season. Defensive end Elvis Dumervil leads all Ravens defenders in sacks with 6 but my focus will be on the second level of their defense. There are two guys I will have my eye on in particular and they are both responsible for defending the middle of the field. My X-Factor Players to Watch are inside linebackers Daryl Smith and C.J. Mosley. Smith is in his 12th NFL season and is on pace for the best statistical season of his career. Mosley is in his second season after being drafted in the first round by the Ravens last season. These two guys have combined for 174 tackles so far this season which is good for nearly one quarter of the Ravens total tackles. They can also get to the quarterback and drop into coverage. They each have 3 sacks this season while Mosley has dropped back to record 5 passes defensed. Watch out for how these two players attack Russell Wilson, Thomas Rawls, Luke Willson, and all the Seahawks receivers on short crossing routs to the middle of the field.

Random Thoughts: The Seahawks will wear white jerseys and college navy pants. No word on what color jerseys the Ravens will wear but there is this stat: The Ravens have only worn their black alternate jerseys once this season. With three home games remaining including this week and one more eligible opportunity to wear their alternates, there is a 33 percent chance the Ravens will sport black in this game… Thom Brennaman and Charles Davis have the call for FOX with Tony Siragusa commentating from the sidelines. Many complain about other announcers such as Joe Buck and Chris Myers but I think Seahawks fans will be really annoyed with the broadcast this week. Why? Siragusa is a former Raven who could have a biased loyalty towards the home team. If you watch this game and get frustrated because the commentators are not giving the Seahawks proper credit this is probably why… Walt Coleman is the referee for this week’s game… It looks like it will be another abnormally warm week weather wise. The game-time temperature is slated to be in the low to mid 60’s and cloudy. It’s funny because that is pretty much the same weather the Seahawks had in Washington D.C. for a game in early OCTOBER last season… Quite frankly I am glad this game got flexed out of Sunday Night Football and the reason I am glad is because of the players. A primetime game on the east coast starts at 8:30pm which means the game won’t end until close to midnight. After meeting with the media, driving to the airport, and a cross-country flight, the Seahawks likely would not land back in Seattle until about 5:00am pacific time. This would make for an epically cruel and tiring Monday. Having the game start at 10:00am pushes that itinerary back. Now the Seahawks will likely land back in Seattle around the same time Sunday Night Football ends, which is about an 8 hour difference… Fantasy playoffs start this week and I made it to the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Shoutout to my starting lineup: Aaron Rodgers, Amari Cooper, Marvin Jones, Jonathan Stewart, T.J. Yeldon, Thomas Rawls, Gary Barnidge, Graham Gano, and the Carolina Panthers defense.

Seahawks Playoff Outlook: With a win the Seahawks take control of the #5 seed in the NFC. If the Seahawks lose they will still hold the #6 seed if the Tampa Bay Buccaneers also lose. The Seahawks fall out of the playoff picture if they lose and the Buccaneers win. Here are other games this week with playoff significance. Teams to note are bolded.

New Orleans (4-8) at Tampa Bay (6-6)

Atlanta (6-6) at Carolina (12-0)

Prediction: This game will not be as close as the score indicates. Both Husky receivers Jermaine Kearse and Kevin Smith will catch touchdown passes from Russell Wilson, Smith’s being the first of his career. Thomas Rawls will also gallop for a 52-yard touchdown in the second quarter. The Ravens will score two garbage time touchdowns but the Seahawks will have the game wrapped up. The Seahawks will head home 8-5 with two straight home games on deck in the middle of the holiday season.

Seahawks 30, Ravens 17

Seahawks/Vikings Preview

5 Dec
vikings preview 2015

Photo Credit: Vikings.com

Matchup: Seattle Seahawks at Minnesota Vikings

Site: TCF Bank Stadium (Minneapolis, Minnesota)

Kickoff: 10:00am

Raise your hand if you had this game as the Seahawks most important game of the season when the schedule came out. After three consecutive games at home the Seahawks hit the road for two straight games. Up first is a huge conference matchup against the Minnesota Vikings. The Seahawks are 6-5 and are coming off a huge win over Pittsburgh a week ago. The Vikings were a team that many experts said to keep an eye on at the start of the season and they are proving the experts right. Minnesota holds an impressive 8-3 record and are currently the leaders of the NFC North. Seattle leads the all-time series 8-5. In their last meeting the Seahawks crushed the Vikings 41-20 in Seattle and the Seahawks eventually went on to win the super bowl. This could very well be a preview of a potential playoff matchup next month. Here is what I will be watching for.

The Minnesota defense allows an average of only 17.6 points per game, second best in the league. It is imperative for the Seahawks offense to be able to stay on the field and drive deep into Vikings territory. Thomas Rawls will face his biggest challenge of the season and I will be keeping close tabs on his yardage coming on first down opportunities. If he can gain at least 4 yards on first down it will put the offense in a good position to gain first downs and keep drives alive. In the passing game I will be focused on the blocking by left tackle Russell Okung and left guard Justin Britt. The right side of the Vikings front seven consists of lineman Everson Griffen as well as linebackers Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr. These three players have combined for 14 of Minnesota’s 25 sacks this season (56 percent). I expect Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson to take care of the ball just like how he did a week ago against Pittsburgh but he must be more aware of his blindside in this game. If Okung and Britt struggle to block it would not be surprising to see Wilson get hit and fumble the ball multiple times. Quick passes to Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, and Luke Willson may be the best way to attack the Vikings through the air this week.

If there was one game this season where I wish we still had Red Bryant it would be for this game. Priority number one for the Seahawks defense this week will be to stop Vikings running back Adrian Peterson. It will be up to Brandon Mebane and Ahtyba Rubin to lock down the middle of the line of scrimmage. Given the solid play of Minnesota’s offensive line penetrating the line will be difficult. Good fundamental tackling will go a long way to limiting Peterson’s production. One guy on defense that may see more playing time than usual is Jordan Hill. In an attempt to limit Peterson’s presence it may not be surprising to see Hill, Mebane, and Rubin all play on the line at the same time.

The Minnesota Vikings have the top ranked rushing offense in the league. In contrast they also sport the league’s second worse pass offense. At age 30 Adrian Peterson is still as productive as ever and the Vikings offense is only as effective as he is. Peterson leads the league in rushing yards with 1,164 and has rushed for over 100 yards six times this season. The Vikings are 6-0 in those games. My worry is that the Vikings will use other ways to move the ball on the ground in an attempt to avoid throwing towards the Legion of Boom. My X-Factor Player to Watch for the Vikings this week is one of the better young quarterbacks in the league and the man that makes the entire Minnesota offense work, Teddy Bridgewater. Although Bridgewater has not thrown for many touchdowns, he is a very conservative passer who tries to move the ball in small chunks to wear out the opposing defense. Bridgewater has had a completion percentage of over 65 percent in six games. In those games he has thrown only two interceptions. The main reason why he is my X-Factor this week is the threat of him keeping the ball and running. Although he has not nearly put up the type of rushing stats as Russell Wilson or Colin Kaepernick of seasons past, Bridgewater is one of the faster quarterbacks in the league and he will scramble and take off if he feels the pressure and does not have any open receivers. Peterson may be the number one priority of the Seattle defense but Bridgewater also contributes to that top ranked rushing attack. Plain and simple, shut Peterson and Bridgewater down on the ground, win the game.

Something that is not garnering the attention that I believe it should is one fairly significant advantage the Seahawks have in this game. Gone are the days of playing the Vikings at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, which was one of the better home field advantages in the NFL. It would be a tougher challenge for the Seahawks if we were playing at the Metrodome. Instead the Vikings are playing the second of two seasons at TCF Bank Stadium on the campus of the University of Minnesota while their brand new stadium is under construction. The stadium seats just over 51,000 which is the smallest capacity of any current NFL stadium and crowd noise will hardly be a factor.

Random Thoughts: The Seahawks will wear white jerseys and wolf grey pants. Seattle is 0-4 all-time in this combination. The Vikings will wear purple jerseys and white pants… Kevin Burkhardt and John Lynch will have the play-by-play and commentary respectively on FOX. Pam Oliver will report from the sidelines… Terry McAulay will be this week’s referee… I briefly considered hitting the road for this game but ultimately decided to go to Dallas instead. The reason behind that decision was the potential weather in Minneapolis. Being a December game I thought there was a realistic possibility of it being below freezing and snowing. Hindsight is 20/20 and in that vein it looks like it will be a nice day for football. The high temperature on Sunday will be in the low 40’s and it will be sunny. That is exactly the kind of weather we have experienced in Seattle the past two weeks… After this week the combined record of the Seahawks next three opponents is 10-23. Translation: If the Seahawks beat the Vikings, you will be extremely hard-pressed to make the argument that Seattle will miss out on the playoffs.

Seahawks Playoff Outlook: The Seahawks currently hold the #6 seed in the NFC playoffs and with a win we are locked into this spot for at least another week; we cannot move up but a loss may knock us out of the current playoff picture. Seattle is three games behind the Arizona Cardinals for first place in the NFC West. Here are games to keep track of that may have NFC playoff implications this week. Teams to note are bolded.

Arizona (9-2) at St. Louis (4-7)

Atlanta (6-5) at Tampa Bay (5-6)

Prediction: The Seahawks are 12-2 in games played in December with Russell Wilson at quarterback. Each of the prior three seasons our December success has carried us to the playoffs. With the win last week we will be riding some serious momentum into this game. Thomas Rawls will run for over 125 yards and score two touchdowns. Wilson will also throw a touchdown to Luke Willson. The game will come down to Minnesota’s final drive. After a punt by Jon Ryan pins the Vikings at their own 2-yard line, Bridgewater will have to drive 98 yards for a game-tying touchdown. On the first play of the drive Minnesota will be penalized for holding in the endzone, giving the Seahawks a safety and in-turn, clinching the game for Seattle. We will improve to 7-5 and be in the driver’s seat for an NFC wild-card berth.

Seahawks 26, Vikings 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.

#10for10 Game #8: Super Bowl Rematch (Broncos vs. Seahawks, 2014 Season)

24 Sep
The view from my seats for Broncos/Seahawks on September 21st, 2014

The view from my seats for Broncos/Seahawks on September 21st, 2014

*To commemorate my 10th season as a Seahawks season ticket holder, I am telling the stories of the top 10 home games I have attended in the past 10 years*

When the NFL schedule comes out every April, I put all my close friends’ names into a hat and they get to pick which game they want to go to when their name is drawn. In 2014 my friend James was the second name to come out of the hat so he had a variety of available games to choose from. We had gone to Super Bowl XLVIII together two months earlier and when he saw that the Seahawks game against the Denver Broncos had not been picked yet, he made sure that 2014 would include a Broncos/Seahawks double dip.

The day could not have been any nicer. Crystal clear skies with the temperature in the high 80’s; perfect weather for early-season football in Seattle. We started the day at the Hawks Nest Bar and Grill where several Bud Light’s were very necessary to battle the heat and mugginess inside the bar. After a few beers (and cups of water), we made our way inside the stadium.

The first offensive play of the game for Denver almost exactly replicated the start of Super Bowl XLVIII. Peyton Manning handed off to running back Montee Ball and he fumbled. The ball was recovered by K.J. Wright and all of the first half momentum had been handed to the Seahawks on a silver platter. The Seahawks took a 17-3 halftime lead thanks to two Russell Wilson touchdown passes. Unfortunately there was a second half to be played.

Seahawks WR Ricardo Lockette caught a touchdown pass in the first half

Seahawks WR Ricardo Lockette caught a touchdown pass in the first half

In the fourth quarter the Broncos recorded a safety and a touchdown pass from Manning to Julius Thomas to make it a 17-12 ballgame. Late in regulation the Broncos were driving to try to take the lead. On 3rd and 11 from the Seahawks 24-yard line, Manning’s pass was picked off by Kam Chancellor and was returned to the Denver 35-yard line. With 2:12 left to play all the Seahawks offense had to do was sit on the ball and they would win. The Chancellor interception felt like a game-clincher to James and I, even though the Broncos still had two timeouts and the 2-minute warning in their back pocket. The Seahawks kicked a field goal to extend their lead to 20-12. The Broncos had less than one minute to drive 80-yards to score a touchdown AND convert the 2-point conversion. To our amazement, they were able to execute. Manning connected with Jacob Tamme on a 26-yard touchdown and Demaryius Thomas made a ridiculous tip-toe catch on the back line to tie the game at 20-20. I was sick to my stomach. The Seahawks defense, a unit that had been ever so reliable, had collapsed in a similar fashion to their playoff loss in Atlanta two seasons prior. This game was headed to overtime, as James and I looked at each other flat out stunned.

The Seahawks won the overtime coin toss. After the defensive collapse that had just occurred and the emergence of Peyton Manning in the second half, we believed the Seahawks could not afford to have Manning see the field in overtime. We had to win it on our first drive. The Seahawks used Percy Harvin to move the ball in small chunks, eventually setting up first and goal to go from the Broncos 6-yard line. The Seahawks had three chances to punch it in and seal this victory. They only needed one. After pouring sweat in excitement and nervousness for over three hours, Marshawn Lynch lunged over the goal line for the game winning touchdown.  Just as I had the previous season against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, I put my arms up in the air then picked James up off of his feet in celebration. The win put the Seahawks at 2-1 and we headed uptown through Pike Place Market for a victory meal at Buffalo Wild Wings.

Seahawks/Cardinals Preview

20 Dec
Photo Credit: Seahawks.com

Photo Credit: Seahawks.com

Matchup: Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals

Site: University of Phoenix Stadium (Glendale, Arizona)

Kickoff: 5:30pm

The Seattle Seahawks have the opportunity this week to prove one of head coach Pete Carroll’s most well-known mantras right; it’s  not how you start, it’s how you finish. The Arizona Cardinals have been the top dogs in the NFC West all season long and the Seahawks have the chance to knock them off their throne and take full control of the division. In front of a nationally televised audience on NBC’s Sunday Night Football the Seahawks will take on the Arizona Cardinals in what some people are calling the biggest regular season game in Cardinals history. Arizona is 11-3 and Seattle is 10-4. A Seahawks win would give both teams an 11-4 record with Seattle taking the division lead based on the head-to-head tiebreaker they would have over Arizona. A Cardinals win clinches the NFC West and home-field advantage for themselves. This is without a doubt the biggest game of the season and many of the matchups definitely favor the Seahawks. In a game that should be filled with dominant defense, this game will likely be won and lost and the hands of the offenses, which is where I put my primary focus for both teams this week. Here is what must happen on Sunday for the Seahawks to take over first place in the NFC West.

There are two things I am looking for out of the Seahawks offense on Sunday. First is we need to get off to a fast start by scoring early points. Two of the top defenses in the league will be featured in this game and points may be at a premium all night long. The best way to do this is to try to establish the run with Marshawn Lynch. If Seattle is unsuccessful running the ball, the best option in the passing game may be to use all sorts of quick passes, screens and slants in particular. In his last 3 games against the Cardinals, quarterback Russell Wilson has been sacked 14 times. The Seahawks cannot afford to move backwards via sacks in this game. If the Cardinals front-seven does a good job penetrating the Seattle offensive line early on, my hope is to see Wilson use his legs more than usual to pick up yards and use quick passes to take the pressure off of himself.

If the Arizona Cardinals have any chance to win this game it will be up to their defense to play their best game of the season. I say this because of the potential anemic play of the Cardinals offense. Arizona will start third-string quarterback Ryan Lindley on Sunday, who in 7 career games has not thrown a touchdown pass. This week I analyzed all of Lindley’s game film including 6 games from the 2012 season and the quarter and a half he played last week in St. Louis in place of Drew Stanton. Here are my thoughts on Ryan Lindley:

There a lot of negatives that I take out of Ryan Lindley’s game. He is a very inconsistent player who struggles doing the most fundamental aspects of the quarterback position. Lindley’s most glaring weakness is that he stares down his receivers, almost as if he predetermines which receiver he is going to throw to. Lindley also struggles reading the rest of the field, oftentimes unknowingly throwing into double or even triple coverage. This could mean big things for the Legion of Boom, as they thrive on reading the quarterback’s eyes to get in position to make a play. Lindley is a traditional pocket passer and he cannot throw on the run to save his life. He is very inaccurate outside of the pocket and even struggles mightily at times hitting receivers in stride from inside the pocket. If Lindley is going to have any success moving the ball the Cardinals will have to throw similarly to how I think the Seahawks should approach the passing game; with short passes and screens. In 7 games, Lindley is 2/27 on passes that travel 15 or more yards in the air (7.4% completion percentage on deep throws). There are two things the Seahawks defense can do that I think can shut Lindley down. If the Seahawks stack the box with 7, 8, or even 9 defenders and send heavy blitzes, Lindley will be flustered easily and may make horrible throws. This is the approach Rex Ryan’s Jets took in a game against Lindley in 2012 and he finished with a 32% completion percentage, 72 passing yards, and one interception. The Cardinals only scored 6 points in that game. The other thing the Seahawks can do is play press coverage on the outside all game long. If the defense plays zone, you are basically giving Arizona free yards and Lindley can take advantage on quick out routes and curls on the outside. Press coverage would eliminate the cushion Lindley would have to make throws to his receivers.

I am curious to know how short Ryan Lindley’s leash is. If he struggles early will Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians pull the plug and replace him with rookie Logan Thomas? Arians stated early this week that they will implement a package of plays for Thomas but he did not go into details. If the Cardinals start ice cold on offense I think it is possible Arians will try to pull several tricks out of his hat, including using cornerback Patrick Peterson in wildcat formations. With Peterson already a dominating defender, the threat of his speed making an impact on the offensive side of the ball makes him my X-Factor player to watch for the Cardinals this week. I would not be surprised to see Peterson play both ways on Sunday and I do not think it is crazy to think he will see an expanded role on offense to get the running game going.

Random Thoughts: The Seahawks will wear white jerseys on Sunday but it is unclear once again what color pants we will wear. I personally hope we wear blue pants… It is my opinion that the Cardinals will ditch their traditional red jerseys for this game and will instead wear their black alternate jerseys. They usually wear black twice per year (as NFL uniform rules permit) but they have only worn them once in 2014. With this being their last home game, I would not be surprised at all to see Arizona wear black jerseys and white pants this week… Al Michaels will provide the play-by-play and Cris Collinsworth will provide commentary for NBC this week. Michele Tafoya will report from the sidelines… This is the first Sunday Night Football game the Seahawks will play on the road since playing at Tampa Bay in 2008. (This season’s game on Thanksgiving does not count towards this stat)… Walt Anderson is the referee this week… Sunday is going to be a long and tense day leading up to kickoff. I don’t think I’ll be nervous, but I’ll just want the game to start already… Last December the Seahawks played the Giants at MetLife Stadium with the hopes that they would make a return trip for the Super Bowl in the coming weeks. The Same goes this week. You can’t tell me it won’t be discussed among the players and staff that the goal is to get back here [to Arizona] next month for Super Bowl XLIX… I was considering going down to Arizona for this week’s game over the summer. I should have made the investment. My hope was to have all of my Christmas shopping done and all my presents wrapped so I could head down to the valley of the sun and spend a nice relaxing weekend in the warm weather, down by the pool with a drink in hand, and watch the Seahawks play. Looking forward to doing all that is we make it to the Super Bowl!… It will be interesting to see what kind of home-field advantage the Cardinals have this week. Last season the 12th Man invaded University of Phoenix Stadium and made it their own. My hope is that the same thing happens this week. Are we going to see the biggest regular season game in Cardinals history and not have their own fans show up in full force and in full throat? Look at the second deck of the stadium, particularly the corners of the second deck and we’ll have the answer to that question.

Seahawks Playoff Outlook: Things are getting simpler. If the Seahawks beat the Cardinals, we clinch a playoff spot, we take control of the NFC West, and we take control of the #1 seed in the NFC Playoffs. We would then  be able to clinch the division with a win at home next week. If the Cardinals win, they clinch the division and home-field advantage and the Seahawks can finish no better than the #5 seed in the NFC Playoffs. Here are this week’s other games with NFC playoff implications. Teams to note are bolded.

Philadelphia (9-5) at Washington (3-11)

Detroit (10-4) at Chicago (5-9)

Green Bay (10-4) at Tampa Bay (2-12)

Indianapolis (10-4) at Dallas (10-4)

Prediction: I was talking to one of my friends earlier this week about what it will take to give the Seahawks a win in this game. We agreed on two things; the first team to score 14 points wins and/or if the Seahawks return an interception for a touchdown at any point in this game we will win. Although I do not predict a pick-six, I do believe the Seahawks will intercept two Ryan Lindley passes and the Seahawks defense will allow less than 175 yards of offense to the Arizona Cardinals. Even though Arizona will do a good job shutting down and stalling Seattle’s offensive drives, Marshawn Lynch will run for a touchdown and three Steven Hauschka field goals later in the game will preserve the victory for the Seahawks. We will take first place in the NFC West and will be in prime position to clinch the division next week.

Seahawks 16, Cardinals 8

Check back late Sunday night or early Monday morning for my review of this game. Thanks for reading and enjoy this game everyone. Go Seahawks!

Seahawks/Eagles Preview

6 Dec
Photo Credit: Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Photo Credit: Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Matchup: Seattle Seahawks at Philadelphia Eagles

Site: Lincoln Financial Field (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

Kickoff: 1:25pm

If you look at each of the Seahawks final four games, you may think this week’s matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles may be the toughest. It very well may be. The Seahawks start the final quarter of the regular season on Sunday when they face off against the Eagles in a rare east coast late-afternoon game. The Seahawks are 8-4 after a convincing win over the San Francisco 49ers last Thursday. Seattle is currently second in the NFC West and is one game behind the Arizona Cardinals for the division lead. The Eagles are currently leading the NFC East at 9-3 and are coming off a big win over the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving. Philadelphia leads the all-time series with the Seahawks 7-6. Their last meeting came in 2011 when Seattle defeated the Vince Young-led Eagles 31-14. The Seahawks have played two games against the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field and beat them both times by a combined score of 70-24. This week the Seahawks will face a style of offense that they have not even come close to seeing by any other team in the NFL. This is what I will be looking for this week.

The Seahawks have not scored more than 20 points in a victory in four weeks when they put up 38 on the New York Giants. Even though our defense has been playing dominant football the past couple of weeks the Seahawks offense needs to finish their drives this week. Settling for field goals may not be good enough to combat the point barrage the Eagles have put on other opponents. This week I will be focused on what the Seahawks offense does on third down opportunities particularly within field goal range. It is these plays that will determine if the Seahawks put 3 points on the board or 7 points on the board. Even though Seattle will be facing the 12th best run defense in the league, it is my opinion that on third down the Seahawks should stick with giving the ball to Marshawn Lynch or Robert Turbin. The Seahawks running game could ultimately dictate the outcome of this game. If we can take advantage of our opportunities, run the clock to allow our defense to rest, and exchange field goals for touchdowns, we will be very difficult to beat.

Never before have I put the word stamina and the Seahawks defense together in the same sentence. However this week the stamina and speed of our defense is crucial to being able to stop the Philadelphia offense. On average the Eagles run a play every 22.9 seconds, by far the fastest rate of any team in the league. If Philadelphia has success in moving the ball and putting points on the board it will be extremely difficult for our defense to stay rested later on in the game. It is crucial for the defense to set their tone early on. The formula to success is nothing new, stopping the run and putting pressure on the quarterback. The Seahawks defensive line will have my attention this week more than any other group. If Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett can get to Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez and simply hurry him the chances of us having opportunities to force turnovers are huge. Tony McDaniel, Kevin Williams, and Jordan Hill will have their hands full with an Eagles offensive line that has helped plow the way for the 6th best running game in the league. The Seahawks have allowed 64 rushing yards in each of their last two games. I estimate that a successful day on Sunday will see the Seahawks allowing between 80-90 combined rushing yards.

When you see the weapons that head coach Chip Kelly and the Philadelphia Eagles have on offense it is no wonder why they are sitting on top of their division with a 9-3 record. They have an explosive backfield featuring running backs LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles and the 5th best passing game in the league including wide receivers Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper, and rookie Jordan Matthews. However since the collarbone injury to starting quarterback Nick Foles, the Eagles have had to rely on backup quarterback Mark Sanchez to lead this team for the rest of the season. In Sanchez’s 4 starts since the injury to Foles, the Eagles have gone 3-1 with Sanchez throwing for 6 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. In those 3 wins the Philadelphia defense and special teams have done a tremendous job in forcing turnovers and even scoring points. In those victories the Eagles forced 11 turnovers, recorded one interception return for a touchdown, and added a 108-yard kickoff return touchdown. In a nutshell, the Eagles have put Sanchez in a position to not have to do a whole lot on his own to win games. The possibility of him having to do more work than normal to win this game makes Mark Sanchez my X-Factor player to watch for Philadelphia. This week more than any other week I believe that Sanchez will have to do considerably more through the air to win this game and thus far he has not proven enough for me to believe that he is a completely different Mark Sanchez than the one that butt-fumbled his way out of New York. It would not surprise me to see Sanchez manage the game similarly to how Alex Smith played the Seahawks last month to prevent turnovers. If Sanchez looks rattled early on, regardless of Seattle’s success rushing the passer, the Seahawks will be in a great position to take control of this game.

Random Thoughts: The Seahawks cannot wear wolf grey for the rest of the season since NFL rules only allow teams to wear their “alternate” jerseys twice per season. The Seahawks will wear white jerseys in Philadelphia this week. Pant color TBD however personally I hope we wear white pants… The Eagles will wear their midnight green jerseys with white pants… This game is FOX’s “America’s Game of the Week.” Joe Buck and Troy Aikman have the call with Erin Andrews reporting from the sidelines… Bill Vinovich is the referee this week. Vinovich also officiated the Seahawks week 3 win over the Denver Broncos… I think Philadelphia is the only city I would not go see the Seahawks play in. I have heard bad things about their fans in general, but then again the same could have been said about Raiders fans and I had a wonderful experience going to a game in Oakland wearing Seahawks stuff (even though it wasn’t a Seahawks game)… I love the 1:25pm start for a game being played on the east coast. The last time the Seahawks played a late afternoon road game in the eastern time zone after daylight savings time going into effect was two seasons ago when the Seahawks beat the Buffalo Bills in Toronto… I have remained more confident going into this week’s game than I was going into last week’s game in San Francisco… If the Seahawks win this game, I believe we will win out, putting us at 12-4.

Seahawks Playoff Outlook: With Seattle’s win and Arizona’s loss last week the Seahawks now sit one game back of the Cardinals for the NFC West lead. With one more game against the Cardinals left, the Seahawks now control their own destiny within the division; running the table gives us the division title. Should the Seahawks win this week, if the Cardinals also win the Seahawks will remain in the wild-card chase for at least one more week. A Seahawks win and a Cardinals loss will put Seattle in the #2 seed. A Seattle win, an Arizona loss, and a Green Bay loss on Monday night, and the Seahawks will have a hold on the #1 seed and home-field advantage with 3 weeks of the regular season left to play. Here are this week’s other games with NFC playoff implications. Teams to note are bolded.

Tampa Bay (2-10) at Detroit (8-4)

Kansas City (7-5) at Arizona (9-3)

San Francisco (7-5) at Oakland (1-11)

Atlanta (5-7) at Green Bay (9-3)

Prediction: This will be a classic back-and-forth football game. The Eagles will start the scoring with a short LeSean McCoy touchdown run. The Seahawks will come right back with a Marshawn Lynch touchdown run to tie the game at 7-7. Philadelphia will add a field goal at the end of the first half and the Eagles will take a 10-7 lead into halftime. The Seahawks will come out red hot in the second half, scoring 10 third quarter points and Seattle will take a 17-10 lead into the fourth quarter. After Philadelphia ties the game at 17-17 thanks to a Jeremy Maclin touchdown reception, the Seahawks will take control of the game for good on both sides of the ball. In the final 10 minutes, the Seahawks defense will force three Philadelphia drives to stall and with 5 minutes left to play, Russell Wilson will find Luke Willson in the endzone for the game-winning touchdown. The Seahawks will get a huge win and with Arizona’s loss to Kansas City, the Seahawks will be the leaders of the NFC West by the time Sunday Night Football kicks off.

Seahawks 24, Eagles 17

Win or lose, check back late Sunday night for my review of this week’s game. Go Seahawks!

Raiders/Seahawks Preview

1 Nov
Photo Credit: seahawks.com

Photo Credit: seahawks.com

Matchup: Oakland Raiders at Seattle Seahawks

Site: CenturyLink Field (Seattle, Washington)

Kickoff: 1:25pm

The Seahawks begin the month of November at home this week as they renew their old AFC West rivalry, hosting the Oakland Raiders. The Seahawks are 4-3 and are coming off a crucial win in Carolina last week. The Raiders have had a very lackluster season thus far and they are the only winless team left in the National Football League at 0-7. Last week the Raiders fell on the road to the Cleveland Browns 23-13. Oakland leads the all-time series with Seattle 29-24. In their last regular season meeting the Raiders demolished the Seahawks 33-3 in October 2010. That was head coach Pete Carroll’s first season in Seattle and since losing to the Raiders in 2010 the Seahawks hold a .606 winning percentage. Meanwhile in the exact same span, the Raiders winning percentage is a mere .317. Here are some things I will be looking for out of the Seahawks this week, as well as a special report on the Oakland Raiders.

I have pleaded for the Seahawks to get quarterback Russell Wilson more involved in the running game the past couple of weeks but this week I do not think it will be necessary for Wilson to run for the Seahawks offense to be effective. Instead, this may finally be the week that we see Wilson spread the ball around and get rookies Paul Richardson and Kevin Norwood their most action of the season. Richardson and Norwood combined for 5 targets last week. Both Wilson and Coach Carroll have stated that they hope to get both of these receivers more involved this week, but I am interested to see if they use them to accentuate their specific abilities. Could Richardson be used on fly sweeps and bubble screens much like how Percy Harvin was used? I think it is definitely possible. Could we see Wilson try to stretch the field and let Norwood use his size as an advantage to catch deep balls? I think Wilson may look Norwood’s direction deep at least once this week. If these two receivers combine for 75 or more receiving yards I think the Seahawks are in for a very successful day through the air.

At the end of last week’s game the Seahawks dialed up the pressure on Carolina quarterback Cam Newton and it worked like a charm in preserving the victory. This week the Seahawks defense needs to stick to that blueprint. At home in 2014 the Seahawks have averaged just over 1.5 sacks per game. This number must improve. After three home games last season the Seahawks averaged just above 2.5 sacks per game. Expect to see Bruce Irvin and K.J. Wright blitz on early downs this week and keep an eye on Wright who will be back starting at outside linebacker. If Raiders rookie quarterback Derek Carr has time inside the pocket it will be interesting to see how his reads progress in the middle of the field. The Seahawks will start rookie Brock Coyle at middle linebacker this week, who has seen little playing time on defense this season. Coyle is a solid tackler who tries to get in on every play but he has a long way to go to challenge for Bobby Wagner’s permanent starting job. It is not unreasonable to think Carr will try to throw short passes in the middle of the field to test Coyle and if Carr can catch the Seahawks off-guard, those passes could turn into large chunks of yards for the Raiders.

There is one major thing the Seahawks absolutely cannot do this week; overlook the Raiders. The Raiders may be 0-7, they may be the worst team in the NFL on paper, but there may be potential for this being a trap game. Remember what happened when the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers came into CenturyLink Field last season? The 12th Man thought we would just roll right over them. Instead, the Buccaneers jumped out to a stunning 21-0 lead putting all Seahawks fans on edge. The Seahawks cannot play relaxed this week and the fans must be just as loud and intense this week as our other games this season. The Raiders have only lost two games so far this season by more than two scores, including two close games against AFC powers New England and San Diego. Oakland will absolutely get up for this week’s game, the question is will the Seahawks force them to sit right back down or will Oakland be able to put up a legitimate fight.

This week is a very special game for me. One of my best friends, Josh Gabel, is a die-hard Oakland Raiders fan. For the past several years I have taken him to every Raiders/Seahawks preseason game but we have never had the opportunity to see our teams play each other in the regular season. There may be no better person I know to give an in-depth analysis of the Oakland Raiders than Josh. Instead of me giving you a paragraph on the Raiders and giving you an “X-Factor player to watch” this week I have instead invited Josh to be a guest contributor in this week’s preview. Here is what Josh has to say about his Raiders, along with what he is looking for in this week’s game:

At 0-7, the Oakland Raiders head to Seattle in the midst of a 13 game losing streak and an all but assured 11th consecutive non-winning season. A trip to the Clink sure doesn’t seem to be the solution to the Raiders’ woes. After two years of salary cap hell, Oakland brought in proven winners and recognizable (albeit past-their prime) names – guys like defensive ends Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley, and running back Maurice Jones-Drew – but have yet to see a return on their investment. With 13 new starters on both sides of the ball, this group has failed to mesh, costing head coach Dennis Allen his job and leaving general manager Reggie McKenzie’s future beyond this season in doubt.

The O in Oakland has gone missing so far in 2014. The Raiders offense is putting up a meager 15.0 PPG, which is good for 31st in the league. Many of these struggles can be traced to an unwillingness to run the ball.  Oakland is averaging only 69.6 rushing yards per game, which should be attributed more play-calling than ineffectiveness. Despite Darren McFadden’s respectable 4.0 yards per carry, Oakland passes 67% of the time. On a team with no playmakers at the skill positions (save for the occasional Andre Holmes highlight), passing the ball at such a high rate is a recipe for losing. Rookies Derek Carr (leads all rookie QBs in passing yards, TDs, and QB Rating) & Gabe Jackson (7 starts on a top 5 pass blocking offensive line) along with the aforementioned Holmes are bright spots for the team’s future. The coaching staff may trust Carr with the keys to the offense, but Oakland will continue to stall without a commitment to the run. Things don’t get much better on the other side of the ball.

Oakland is near the bottom of the league in nearly every defensive category. They can’t stop the run (130.1 YPG) or get after the QB (7 sacks, tied for 29th). With all of the money McKenzie gave to Tuck, Woodley, and Antonio Smith, it is very disappointing to see such a lack of production. The lone bright spot on this defense is that number 5 overall pick Khalil Mack has lived up to his high draft so far, but not necessarily as expected. Coming out of the University of Buffalo, Mack was known being a disruptive force behind the line of scrimmage. Though Mack has yet to register a sack, he has been credited with 22 QB pressures and is Pro Football Focus’ highest rated linebacker against the run, with 8.5 tackles for a loss. It will be interesting to see if Mack can down Marshawn Lynch in the backfield. With the offense struggling, the Raiders defense has to get off the field more; Oakland is tied for last in the league on 3rd down, giving up a 48% conversion rate. The Raiders have to find a way to pressure Russell Wilson without losing containment, a task that is much easier said than done.

Whether it’s “Play like Carcass for Marcus [Mariota]” or (my preference) “Down the Pooper for [Amari] Cooper”, Raiders fans are looking forward to May’s draft earlier than ever before. A win in Seattle would do wonders for Reggie McKenzie’s future as head of football decisions. Is it likely? No. But, rest assured, Sunday is going to feel like a good old fashioned AFC West showdown.

Random Thoughts: The Seahawks will wear navy jerseys and navy pants this week. Oakland will sport their classic white jersey/silver pants combo… Kevin Harlan will provide the play-by-play and former Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon will provide the color commentary for CBS this week… Ed Hochuli and his gigantic biceps will do the officiating this week… This will be the first “cold” home game of the season. I recommend sweatshirts and jeans… Two reminders for the 12’s this week. First remember this weekend is daylight savings time. Turn your clocks back one hour and get an extra hour of sleep. Second, remember this week is a 1:25pm kickoff. Give yourself a little extra time to get to the stadium but shame on you if you are not in your seats by kickoff… Given the circumstances of this special Raiders/Seahawks regular season matchup, we have a full slate ahead of us on Sunday. Tentative schedule includes McDonald’s breakfast, being at the bar around the time they open between 8 and 8:30, the game, then dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings. It’s going to be a great day… Walter Jones will become the 11th Seahawk to be inducted into the Seahawks Ring of Honor. The ceremony will take place at halftime. What is interesting is that Jones will be the first player to have his number retired BEFORE having his name put in the Ring of Honor. This is the first Ring of Honor ceremony I will get to be a part of since I became a season ticket holder in 2006 (Cortez Kennedy Was inducted into the Ring of Honor in 2006 but I was unable to attend the game). This season the Seahawks have had a pattern of having a 12th Man Flag raiser that is somehow associated to the opposing team or opposing city. With the Raiders in town I expect a former Seahawk from the 1980’s to raise the flag this week. I have no specific guess though… With a win the Seahawks will close out the first half of the season with a 5-3 record.

Prediction: Honestly, I see the Seahawks rolling in this game. Oakland may be able to keep it close in the first half but Seattle will eventually run away with this game. Marshawn Lynch will run for over 100 yards and a touchdown. Russell Wilson will add two passing touchdowns and the Seahawks defense will force 3 Raiders turnovers. The Seahawks will get to 5-3 and we will get ready to face the New York Giants next week.

Seahawks 33, Raiders 14

49ers/Seahawks Preview (NFC Championship Game)

18 Jan
Image

Photo Credit: seahawks.com

Matchup: (5) San Francisco 49ers at (1) Seattle Seahawks

Site: CenturyLink Field (Seattle, Washington)

Kickoff: 3:30pm

Not very often do you get an opportunity like this, even less often at home. It has been 8 years since the Seahawks played the Carolina Panthers in the 2005 NFC Championship Game and personally I have been waiting for the Seahawks to get back on this national stage ever since. I became a season-ticket holder in 2006 and for all the games I have been to over the past 8 seasons, opportunities like the one presenting itself on Sunday makes having tickets and going to games during the bad years absolutely worth it. In front of a nationally televised audience on FOX, the Seahawks will take on the San Francisco 49ers in the 2013 NFC Championship Game. If the Seahawks lose the season is over, but if the Seahawks win they punch their ticket to New York for Super Bowl XLVIII on February 2nd. The all-time series between the Seahawks and 49ers is tied 15-15. Their last meeting came on December 8th when San Francisco defeated Seattle 19-17 in the final seconds at Candlestick Park. This is the first meeting between the two teams in the playoffs. There are many storylines that have gained momentum from both a local and a national perspective in the days leading up to this game. Here are my thoughts as we head into the biggest home game in franchise history.

The absolute number one key for the Seahawks this week comes on defense. In the last two 49ers/Seahawks games played in Seattle, the Seahawks have held 49ers running back Frank Gore to a total of 44 rushing yards. What I’ve noticed when you dig into all of Colin Kaepernick’s career starts is that he has been successful because of a dynamic rushing attack helping him. When opposing defenses are able to shut the San Francisco running game (especially Gore) down, Kaepernick becomes extremely vulnerable. Once again the number one key for the Seahawks is to stop Gore. Unlike last week where I wanted to see the Seahawks force the New Orleans Saints to run, forcing Colin Kaepernick to throw will help the Seahawks mightily. In Kaepernick’s 28 career starts he has thrown only 11 interceptions. 4 of those interceptions have come in his two starts in Seattle. The Legion of Boom will be Kaepernick’s worst nightmare if the Seahawks run defense allows it to. My target rushing total for Frank Gore this week is between 50-60 yards. If the Seahawks can hold Gore to under 60 yards on the ground, we will be in fantastic shape.

The Seattle offense is a unit that has not lit up the stat sheet recently but they have been efficient enough to win football games. There are three things I need to see out of the Seahawks offense this week. The first thing is for Marshawn Lynch to have a productive day at the office. Unlike Frank Gore, Lynch has been very efficient running the ball against the 49ers in Seattle. In the same two game span that Gore has rushed for 44 total yards, Lynch has rushed for 209 total yards and has also added 3 touchdowns. I fully expect the majority of fans to panic if the Seahawks cannot get the running game going early but it will be necessary to be patient through the first half to try to get Lynch large chunks of yards. The second necessity for the Seahawks offense this week is to protect Russell Wilson. Wilson was sacked 3 times last week and he has been sacked 18 times in his last 6 games. The last time the Seahawks and 49ers played in Seattle, the Seahawks were without two starting offensive lineman and lost Russell Okung to a foot injury early in the game. This week the entire starting offensive line is healthy and I expect significant improvement in pass protection. Keep an eye on the left guard position this week as Michael Bowie is expected to start again after playing a great game last week in his first career start at that position. The third thing I need to see out of the offense this week is an extension of my second offensive key, only the weight of this key falls more on the shoulders of Russell Wilson. There have been instances throughout the past few games where when Wilson drops back to pass, at times he seems to bail from the pocket and move around to try to make throws while at other times he seems a bit too overconfident being patient in the pocket. In those instances he will wait for a receiver to get open and by the time he decides on his read he is either on the ground sacked or throwing the ball away. Wilson needs to be more aware of what is going on around him to know how much time he has to throw. Confidence in the pocket and connecting on throws down the field will help the Seahawks greatly this week.

The San Francisco 49ers come into the NFC Championship Game red-hot and firing on all cylinders. My 49ers preview is rather broad this week as there are only three things that I believe will help the 49ers be more effective this week. The first key is to ride the wave of momentum that comes with an 8-game winning streak. San Francisco comes into the NFC Championship Game as perhaps the more confident team, which comes naturally riding a long winning streak. My other two 49ers keys will be the most important to keep that momentum going.

The 49ers need to handle the crowd noise much better than they have in their last two visits to CenturyLink Field. Shorter verbiage and hand signals will be necessary this week and I would not be surprised to see the 49ers use a no-huddle package, especially early in the game. San Francisco will want to take the 12th Man out of the game as early as possible so it will be very important to score early. On offense for San Francisco this week there is only one player that I believe is deserving of my X-Factor player to watch, and that is the most important player that was not on the field the last time the 49ers played in Seattle. Wide receiver Michael Crabtree has elevated the 49ers passing game to extraordinary levels since returning from a torn Achilles on December 1st. Crabtree has averaged 62 receiving yards in 7 games this season and he has also been targeted an average of 8 times per game. It is hard to believe how big of a difference Crabtree has made since returning; the 49ers have not lost since his return. Taking Crabtree away will limit Colin Kaepernick’s weapons to tight end Vernon Davis and wide receiver Anquan Boldin.

In my “Making Memories” post earlier this week, I recall the 2005 NFC Championship Game in great detail. One of the things I mentioned is how I never sat down throughout the duration of the game and the 12th Man did not let up on the Carolina offense all game long. I cannot stress the importance of duplicating that stadium environment again this week. At last week’s Divisional playoff game many fans left following Marshawn Lynch’s final touchdown assuming the game was all but over. For a playoff game I find that behavior utterly pathetic. This week cannot and hopefully will not be the same as last week. I hope to spend the majority of the game on my feet regardless of who has the ball. I expect every single fan to scream when San Francisco has the ball. I expect no fan to leave before the fourth quarter clock hits zero. If everything goes right this should be the biggest party in the city. I hope you will not want to leave as the game gets closer to the finish. In addition, I want this game to be the loudest Seahawks game I have attended up to this point in my life. We the 12th Man WILL have a voice in deciding the outcome of this game. Do not doubt that. We also owe it to the guys on the field to give it our all. If we stay consistently ear-drum-bursting loud this week, the 49ers will have no chance communicating and coming into our house and stealing a victory.

Random Thoughts: The Seahawks will likely wear blue jerseys and blue pants for the final time this season. I say “likely” because should the Seahawks win, they will be designated as the road team in Super Bowl XLVIII. The 49ers will wear their classic white jersey/gold pants look… Gene Steratore is this week’s referee. He called the Seahawks week 8 game against the Rams in St. Louis and Steratore’s crew loosely called that game. He let the players play. Hopefully the same goes this way because if the game is called tight the Seahawks may be in trouble… Joe Buck and Troy Aikman have the call for FOX this week with Pam Oliver and Erin Andrews covering the sidelines. In addition, the entire “FOX NFL Sunday” pregame crew will be attendance this week and they will do their pregame show from inside the stadium, an annual tradition, starting at 3pm… The giveaway this week is white rally towels. All I can say is hallelujah. I’ve been waiting to get the chance to wave a rally towel all season and it is entirely fitting that chance comes in the biggest home game of the season… Ann Wilson from “Heart” will sing the national anthem before the game which actually surprises me because I thought FOX would bring in the most recent American Idol or X-Factor winner to sing it like they have done in the past… The halftime show is one that I am very much looking forward to. Grammy nominated and Seattle recording artists Macklemore and Ryan Lewis will perform at halftime, which turns the NFC Championship Game into a mini Super Bowl in my opinion. Hopefully the Seahawks take control of the game in the first half so I can actually enjoy Mack’s halftime performance… In my opinion there is only one group that I think should have the honor to raise the 12th Man flag this week. Back when we played Tampa Bay in November, the Seahawks honored the 30th anniversary of the first playoff team in franchise history. Members of the 1983 Seahawks stood at the flagpole while Steve Largent did the honors of raising the flag. This week should hold the exact same concept. The only group that I see fit to raise the 12th Man flag this week is members of the 2005 Seahawks led by head coach Mike Holmgren, the first Seahawks team to play in the Super Bowl. I will be extremely disappointed if this does not happen. Even if they do not celebrate the entire team, Coach Holmgren deserves the chance to raise the flag this week… Goal for Sunday: Try to meet up with all of my friends that I know are going to the game… Streamers are a must once again this week. Gotta go all out… If we win, the Halas Trophy presentation will be really awesome to be a part of again… Let this sink in: We are 60 minutes away from playing in the biggest game in Seahawks franchise history.

Prediction: There is no doubt that this will be a physical game and it may be close until the final few minutes of the fourth quarter. Zach Miller will catch a first quarter touchdown to make it 7-0 Seahawks. A Steven Hauschka field goal will extend the lead to 10-0 before the 49ers score on a Michael Crabtree touchdown pass in the final two minutes of the half. Halftime score: Seahawks 10, 49ers 7.

In the second half the Seahawks will take full control in the running game. Marshawn Lynch will run for a pair of touchdowns, the second of which coming in the final 5 minutes of the game. That will be the dagger. Vernon Davis will catch a garbage time touchdown under the two-minute warning but by then it will be far too late. The Seahawks will win, hoist the Halas Trophy, and will head to Super Bowl XLVIII as the 2013 NFC Champions.

Seahawks 24, 49ers 14

Whether we win or lose check back late Sunday night for my review of the NFC Championship Game. Whether you are watching on television or at the game, enjoy this one everybody because hopefully this will be a game we all look back on as one of the best in team history. Go Seahawks!