Saturday, November 21, 2015

There is Always Next Year

One of the great things about sports is that teams get a chance to start anew every season. Your record from the previous season is whipped away and you start fresh with a 0-0 record just like all the other teams. Your team has a chance to win it all. This perpetual refresh of the records lets fans continue to hold out hope for the future. Even if the current season is going poorly there is always next year, when things will be different.

After the Seahawks loss on Sunday Night Football to the Arizona Cardinals I find myself convince that the 2015 season is, for all intents and purposes, over for my beloved NFL team. Sure, they are not officially eliminated from the playoffs. The Atlanta Falcons could continue their free fall and the Seahawks could maybe sneak into the playoffs as a wild card. Even if they did manage to pull off that impressive feat it would mean that to get to the Super Bowl they would have to win three road game in a row against playoff caliber opponents. This is highly unlikely.
All season, with the possible exception of the game against the Dallas Cowboys, the Seahawks offensive line has been terrible. As I discussed in an early post Pete Carroll and John Schneider really blew it with this year's offensive line. They seemed to think their track record of finding diamonds in the rough and developing stars was enough to let them turn two defensive players and a tight end into an NFL quality offensive line. It completely backfired.

Instead of the offense featuring a punishing ground game followed by explosive plays through the air, we have had to suffer through one of the most inept and truly awful offensive performances by the Seahawks since before Mike Holmgren was the coach.  The line consistently make drive killing penalties. When they aren't doing that they are blocking with the skill of a matador. Defenders find themselves in the backfield at unbelievable speeds. The offensive line forces the Seahawks into situations with 10+ yards required to convert over and over again.

The Seahawks offenses inability to sustain drives and stay on the field has impacted the defense.  The Seattle defenders are asked to play 35-45 minutes of the game. Their stamina and conditioning is constantly put to the test and it has failed several times this year. The volume of snaps they are asked to defend means they are bound to make a mistake eventually. The other team's offense just has too many chances to figure them out. This has resulted in five blown fourth quarter leads in five Seahawks losses. Yes, every Seahawks loss has come in the fourth quarter.

However, not all of the defense's problems can be pinned on the big boys tasked with defending the trenches. The defense is not as deep or as talented as in years past. The Legion of Boom only has four interceptions through nine games. Former All Pro cornerback Richard Sherman still doesn't have an interception, though he has had plenty of chances slip through his fingers. Byron Maxwell's replacement, Cary Williams, has looked somewhere between mediocre and bad. Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett are playing at the highest levels of their careers, yet there isn't much in the way of depth on the defensive line. When Avril and Bennett need a breather the pass rush is noticeably worse. The defense just isn't as good this year.

Quarterback Russell Wilson has struggled this year. Instead of taking the expect next step to the true upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks, Wilson has regressed. He is missing throws to open receivers. He forcing balls that have little or no chance of being caught. Many of these issues can be at least partially attributed to the offensive line. They have failed so miserably at protecting their quarterback that he appears to be getting anxious in the pocket. He doesn't wait for routes to develop. He avoids pressure that doesn't exist. He fumbles the ball in crucial situations. However not all of the problems can be blamed on Gary Gilliam et al. Wilson has played worse on his own as well.

Some people think he is distracted with off the field issues. Others think he is finally running out of the luck that propelled him to two consecutive Super Bowls. I think he is just having a down year at the most inopportune time. Whatever it is Wilson is clearly playing at a lower level than we have come to expect in Seattle.

All of this negativity and complaining brings me back to my opening thoughts. Sure, the Seahawks are bad this year. Their team's talent is too shallow and their offensive line too horrendous for them to have any legitimate chance at winning the Super Bowl. Their once dominate defensive has started to come back down to earth and their talent quarterback is struggling through a slump. However, they still have some key pieces in place.

Their quarterback is young and talented. Just a year ago we were debating if he belonged in the list of top five quarterbacks in the whole NFL. The Seahawks key defenders are locked up for the next few years and their front office has shown a knack for finding guys in free agency and the draft. Rookie running back Thomas Rawls has shown signs of having the skills required to replace Marshawn Lynch as the cog that makes the offense work. Things aren't all bad in Seattle. There are signs of good things to come. They should be able to make a run in the near future. There is always next year.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Shootyhoops Basketmakers: David Thompson

David Thompson, All-Seeing Time Lord

In the early 1970s there came the dawn of a new era of basketball and perhaps no player represented that era better than David Thompson.  Thompson was a new evolution of the basketball player, spending his time either dunking the ball or snorting cocaine[1].  What set Thompson apart as a trailblazer was his most consuming hobby: time-travelling.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Andrew Luck, the Runner

Normally on this blog I try to keep my posts objective. Through statistics I attempt to provide evidence for my arguments.  For today's topic I am going to abandon that style and instead focus on the good old fashion eye test. I will throw in a few stats here and there, but definitely less than I often do. Basically what I am trying to say is I dont have any hard proof that Colts quarterback Andrew Luck is a good runner, but after watching him on Monday Night against the Panthers I am convinced he is.

Andrew Luck has made his name from his passing abilities. Coming out of college he was heralded as one of the most complete and NFL ready quarterbacks in years. Before he even threw an NFL pass, people were comparing him to Rodgers and Manning. Once he started actually playing in the league the results didn't disappoint those singing his praises. Behind Andrew Luck the Colts made the playoffs in each of his first three seasons (2012, 2013, 2014). With his gaudy numbers and his team racking up the wins, analysts primarily focused on this throwing abilities.

However, in 2015 Andrew Luck has struggled with his on field play. He is missing reads and throwing bad interceptions. Generally it has appeared that Mr. Luck has regressed in his skill level. However, in one key and often overlooked area the Colts QB is still among the best at his position, that is running the football.

In his career Luck is only averaging 19.8 rushing yards per game. For comparisons sake lets take a look at the 2014 QB rushing leaders. Russell Wilson led QB by rushing for 53.1 yards per game. As many fans know Russell is kind of an anomaly among NFL QBs. He has a crazy good ability to turn what appears to be a 5 yard sack into a 15 yard gain with his feet. But just because Andrew Luck's running stats dont line up well with DangeRuss doesn't mean Andrew Luck isn't a good runner. So let's look at a few other QB stats.

In 2014, among quarterbacks, Andrew Luck had the ninth most rushing yards per game.  The quarterback right above Luck on the leader board was Case Keenum.The one right below was Geno Smith. Not bad company to be around, but definitely not proof of a talented runner, but the stats don't tell the whole story.

The real proof of Andrew Luck's running ability comes from watching him play. He has an ability to successfully identify when he should tuck the ball and run. This routinely helps his team by extending drives with his legs and picking up first downs.

When he does choose to run Luck is actually surprisingly fast. He can get into gear and pull away from pursuing linemen. He is also a big man. He is listed at 6'4" and 240 lbs, which is only 5 lbs less than Cam Newton, another giant who is praised for his size. At that size Luck isn't an easy guy to tackle so he can pick up tough yards.

During the fourth quarter of the 11/2 Monday Night Football game, Luck brought his Colts back and forced overtime. The Colts ended up losing in overtime, but a lot of this almost come back was because of Luck's ability to run. He only had 35 yards rushing, but they were key yards. Luck was able to take off running towards the side lines, avoid or out run Panther defenders, and step out of bounds for a gain. The key was he kept gaining yards and stopping the clock.

Luck's running on that Monday Night impressed me, but it wasn't the first time I had seen him carry his team with his legs. As I have mentioned he routinely does this. I know they dont want to risk injuring him, but the Colts should consider designing a few runs for Luck. He has the speed and size to pick up yards. The threat of the run would help open up the passing game so Luck could take advantage of his traditional strength. Andrew Luck is a surprisingly good running quarterback.

Sources: Yahoo Sports, Wikipedia, Pro Football Reference

Saturday, October 24, 2015

A Few Tidbits from Around the Web: Punting

Football season is in full swing. High School, NCAA, and NFL games are happening all over the place.  There have been lots of exciting plays and even more exciting finishes (especially if your team is playing the Seahawks). For some reason the recent weeks have have had a disproportionately large number of weird punt plays. So, for that reason this edition of Tidbits will be focusing strictly on punts.

  • On Sunday October 18th, The Indianapolis Colts were in a tight contest with the New England Patriots. During the third quarter on a fourth and three the Colts decided to run a fake punt. The play they ran to try and convert the fourth down was possibly the worst designed play ever. The head coach has since said they weren't supposed to actually hike the ball, but that doesn't matter because they did hike the ball. Fail.
  • Michigan vs Michigan State is a fierce rivalry. Traditionally Michigan has dominated, but for as of late "little brother" Michigan State has had the upper hand. Coming into this years game Michigan State had won 6 of the last 7 competitions. This year it looked like Michigan was finally going to top the highly ranked Michigan State, until disaster struck during a punt on the last play of the game.
  • This video is old,but it is good. Seahawk's punter Jon Ryan used to play for the Packers and he was really good.
  • Somehow with five games played in 2015 the San Diego Chargers have only 3 punt return yards (click the link and scroll down to the bottom to see).

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Pete Carroll Fails, the Seahawks Offensive Line is Terrible

It is time for the experiments on the Seahawks offensive line to stop. We know that Pete Carroll, John Schneider, et al are football geniuses. They can spot talent that no one else can. They have proved it time and time again. However, not everyone can get it right every time and when it comes to the offensive line the Seahawks coaches have got it all wrong.

Currently the Seahawks have three players (Nowak, Sweezey, and Gilliam) starting on their offensive line who didn't play       offensive line in college. The Seahawks decided that the raw athletic talent that these three guys possess was enough that they could turn them into NFL level lineman. The coaches thought they could mold them into competent starters and get great value at expensive positions. If it had worked this would sure be a great success story, but instead it has been an utter failure.

On every single offensive play the Seahawks Russell Wilson is put at an increased risk of getting injured because his linemen are unable to even slow down the opponents pass rush. Wilson has already been sacked 18 times in only 4 games. At that paces he will go down for a loss 72 times in 2015. That is a ridiculous amount. His previous season high for being sacked is 44.

Also all those sacks don't count all the other hits Wilson is taking. Sacks aren't recorded when Wilson throws it away right before getting drilled, which is happening a lot. Even though the stats don't show it, Wilson body is still feeling it. He can't continue to take this punishment forever. His play is going to suffer. If he somehow manages not to get injured he is sure to get gun-shy. The constant beatings add up.

The Seahawks are lucky they have Wilson. Without him they would probably be 1-3 and none of those losses would have been close. A slower less mobile QB wouldn't even stand a chance back there. Think of Carson Palmer or Tom Brady. Guys like that would never even get a pass off. Instead we have Wilson who is able to evade onrushing defenders and throw complete passes on the run. His skill and athleticism is saving the Seahawks from humiliation.

As I have repeated stated, the Seahawks offensive line is terrible. That is entirely on the coaching staff. They chose to trade away Pro Bowler Max Unger and let quality players like Chris Carpenter walk without bringing anyone competent in to replace them. It isn't Gilliam, Nowak, or Sweezey's faults they were thrown into NFL games to play positions they don’t understand. Taking a gamble on one guy being able to successfully convert would have been worse the risk, but attempting the conversion on three guys is irresponsibly risky. Pete Carroll should have seen this awful mess coming. Everyone else in Seattle did.

With their current offensive line the Seahawks coaching staff has been a complete failure. Their attempt to find market inefficiencies and succeed by saving money on the line by converting players to the position has been a failure and is putting their star QB at risk for injury. Seahawks are playing with fire and if they don’t change something soon they are going to get burned.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Shootyhoops Basketmakers: Wilt Chamberlain

King Kong Ain’t Got Shit on Wilt

The most dominant player in the history of the NBA may be the one interesting thing about basketball’s early years, if for no other reason but the sheer absurdity of his stats.  This is not to say that Wilt Chamberlain is the greatest basketball player of all time: while he is certainly in the conversation for such a meaningless honor, he may not quite be at the level of some of those yet to come.  He was, however, dominant in a way that will never been seen again thanks to his unique nature.  Wilt[1] was one of the first highly skilled seven-footers, able to make plays his fellow monstrosities were too cumbersome to attempt.  His high school career was so storied as to create college basketball.  Before Wilt’s high school graduation, no one had ever considered having sports teams at a college competing with other colleges.  Wilt was such a talent that many schools realized that having him attend their university and play basketball would probably be good for their reputation.  This is why, upon his graduation in 1955, roughly 100 college basketball programs sprung up around the country. 

Monday, September 28, 2015

Shootyhoops Basketmakers: the Era of the Celtics

The Era of the Celtics or: Terrifying Basketball Robots Take Over
In the mid-50s, a man named Red Auerbach came to power.  Red was a simple man.  He had grown up the son of a dry cleaner and so had undergone the usual bullying that accompanies one’s father being a piece of laundry equipment.  However, that very connection to the mechanical shaped Red into the basketball mastermind he would one day become.  After adopting the last name “Auerbach” after sneezing loudly while in line at the DMV, Red joined the Navy and began coaching the academy’s basketball team.  Red loved the military efficiency that his team played with but couldn’t help but noticing how all those intricacies of being human got in the way.  Players would miss games for family emergencies or because they had been run over by a train.  Sometimes the point guard would relay the wrong play or make a poor decision.  To err is to be human, and Red Auerbach would have none of that.
Pictured: Red Auerbach
For you see, Red wanted one thing: to win.  He had the heart of a champion.  And with that heart, which he had torn from the chest of Joe Louis in 1938 and kept on display on his mantle, Red knew he had what it took to dominate the NBA.  For you see, the NBA had the same problems that Red was having with his Navy teams: everyone playing the game was entirely too human.  Red drew on his childhood roots to fix this problem.  In 1946, when Red was hired to coach the Washington Capitols of the BAA, he began work on his robot army.