Superbowl Sleeper: Seattle Seahawks Reviesed

Russell Wilson beat out high priced veteran Matt Flynn for the starting QB job.( Photo Credit: AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Sunday hit “publish” on a post about the Seahawks chances to reach the Superbowl. Matt Flynn was the headline picture. Oops. Turns out rookie Russell Wilson will be the Seahawks quarterback.

The Russell Wilson Effect
I give Pete Carrol credit, this took guts. Usually, when a team signs a quarterback to a 3 year, 26 million dollar contract, he is the starter by default. Carrol is taking a bit of a gamble by going with the player with less experience. With that said, by going with Wilson, the Seahawks playoff chances take a major hit. Regardless of his college pedigree and preseason success, facing the 49ers defense twice as well as Rob and Rex Ryan’s 46 defenses, will be a challenge for Wilson. Expect the Seahawks to be competitive but fall short of the playoffs, just like 2011.

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Superbowl Sleeper: Seattle Seahawks

Matt Flynn must bring balance to the Seattle offense. (Photo Credit: UPI/Landov )

The Superbowl Sleeper series is a look at five teams that finished below .500 in 2011 — the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Kansas City Chiefs, Seattle Seahawks, Carolina Panthers, and the Buffalo Bills– and what it would take for each team to get to the Superbowl in 2012.

What happened in 2011?

The Seahawks were surprisingly good on defense, ranking seventh in points allowed despite a lack of household names on that side of the ball.  Unfortunately, the passing game held them back as Seattle quarterbacks combined for only 14 touchdowns, leading to a 7-9 record.

The Good

Seattle boasts one of the best secondaries in the NFL, anchored by safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor.  The front seven is strong in the trenches and Marshawn Lynch is a battering ram of at running back.

The Bad

The Tarvaris Jackson led passing game held them back from being a playoff team. The front office attempted to upgrading the quarterback position by adding Matt Flynn in free agency and drafting Russell Wilson.  Flynn, while showing flashes of brilliance, is still an unknown and the wide receivers are a developing group.   Defensive end Chris Clemons is the entire pass rush.

Blueprint to get to the Superbowl

Seattle’s defense continues to develop as first round pick Bruce Irvin pressures the quarterback on passing downs.  Matt Flynn leads an efficient aerial attack, bringing balance to the Seahawks offense.

Outlook

The Seahawks have the talent to win the NFC West.  They possess a power running game, an emerging defense and a legitimate homefield advantage.  Although Flynn lacks experience, he is still better than Tarvaris Jackson.  Look for Seattle to make noise in the playoffs.

Superbowl Sleeper: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Superbowl Sleeper series is a look at five teams that finished below .500 in 2011 — the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Kansas City Chiefs, Seattle Seahawks, Carolina Panthers, and the Buffalo Bills– and what it would take for each team to get to the Superbowl in 2012.

What happened in 2011?
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers collapsed after a promising 2010 season to 4-12.  Quarterback Josh Freeman regressed, throwing 22 interceptions.  The defense was a disaster, finishing last in sacks and 30th overall.  The poor season lead to a change in leadership, with former Rutgers Head Coach Greg Schiano taking the reigns.

The Good

The front office was aggressive in the off-season, opening their wallet to sign high profile free-agents WR Vincent Jackson and G Carl Nicks, and using shrew maneuvering in the 2012 NFL Draft to obtain S Mark Barron and RB Doug Martin.  Barron and Martin should contribute immediately despite being rookies and Jackson and Nicks represent significant upgrades at their respective positions.   Despite his bad 2011 campaign, Josh Freeman is an immensely talented quarterback.

The Bad
To this point the Buccaneers young defensive line has been a disapointment.  Defensive tackle  Gerald McCoy and defensive end Da’Quan Bowers were supposed to be the linchpins of an athletic attacking defense but Tampa defense has been the exact opposite.  The are soft up front, ranking 28th and 32nd against the run the last two seasons.

Blueprint to get to the Superbowl
The Buccaneers will have to lean on their big, physical offensive line and dual headed running attack to provide balance.  Defensively the undersized front seven and the defensive line especially, must mature and play up to their ability.

Outlook

Tampa is playing in possibly the toughest division in the NFL playing six games against the Saints, Falcons and Panthers.  They should be able to compete offensively, but their defense has too many holes up front to be a viable contender.

Superbowl Sleeper: Kansas City Chiefs

The Superbowl Sleeper series is a look at five teams that finished below .500 in 2011 — the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Kansas City Chiefs, Seattle Seahawks, Carolina Panthers, and the Buffalo Bills– and what it would take for each team to get to the Superbowl in 2012.

What happened in 2011?
The Kansas City Chiefs finished 7-9 as injuries crippled any hope of a playoff birth. They lost quarterback Matt Cassel with a broken hand, and running back Jammal Charles, tight end Tony Moeaki and safety Eric Berry all suffered knee injuries.

The Good
When healthy the Chiefs have a talented nucleus of players. On offense, they feature an explosive group that includes running backs Peyton Hillis and Jamaal Charles, receivers Dwayne Bowe and Steve Breston, and offensive tackles Brenden Albert and Eric Winston. The defense is not as deep as the offense, but pass rusher Tamba Hali, inside backer Derrick Johnson and defensive backs Brandon Flowers and Eric Berry are strong building blocks.

The Bad
The defensive front is poor against the run (they ranked 26th in the league against the run in 2011) and Hali is the only proven pass rusher. Matt Cassel has been inconsistent during his tenure in Kansas City.

Blueprint to get to the Superbowl
On offense, Hillis and Charles control the clock  allowing Breston and Bowe convert big plays versus single coverage.   Defensively young pass rushers Justin Houston and 2012 first round pick Dontari Poe compliment Hali as Brandon Flowers and Eric Berry turn rushed passes into interceptions.

Outlook

The Chiefs are talented enough to win the AFC West and with possibly the best homefield advantage in the league, could definitely make a surprise run.  However they do have questions along the  interior of the offensive line and the run defense is a glaring weakness.

Five Training Camp Stories Every NFL Fan Will Read or Watch

The good thing about NFL training camps starting? It means we are getting closer to the start of the NFL season. The bad? Recycled, cliché storylines as television networks, newspapers, magazines and blogs try to produce content without meaningful games to lean on.  Just like a NFL team, the media has signature plays that they are comfortable executing. Until the season begins for real on September 5th, be prepared to read and watch the following stories over the next month.

1. Player “X” is in the best shape of his life.

This storyline will be used early in training camp. It is the media equivalent to running an off-tackle play. Pick a young veteran, someone who has been productive but has not quite met expectations. Comment on how great he looks, how much weight he has lost, or how much muscle he has gained. Mention the new training program (yoga and mixed martial arts are popular) he used in the spring and early summer to get in shape and how he is ready to “reach the next level”.

2. “The team will be more aggressive.”

Often used when a team features a new offensive or defensive coordinator. Includes a summary of how the offensive or defensive unit struggled and how the new coordinator will “attack” and “dictate” by blitzing more or throwing more deep passes.

3. “Everyone has to earn their spot”

There are no sacred cows! Everyone starts on equal footing! Open competition! This is more of a coach-talking-through-the-media strategy than a reporter created storyline. Dallas Cowboys’ coach Jason Garrett used this tactic last season when he made the rookies earn the star on their helmets.

4. “He finally understands the system”

This usually applies to quarterbacks and wide receivers, but is also used in stories about highly drafted defensive players. First, there is a recap of the player’s struggles to this point and comments about how the playbook overwhelmed him. This is followed with details of off-season film study with coaches and veteran players and eventually the proclamation that the “light came on”.

5. “The head coach is going to be tougher/ more player friendly this year”
The head coach, following a disappointing season, spends much of the off-season reflecting and realizes the team was either too comfortable or too tense. There usually are references to books or movies about leadership. New York Giants’ coach Tom Coughlin is the most popular example of this storyline.

Football Appreciation: The Bomb

 Staff Photo by Matthew West.

Randy Moss is probably the best vertical receiver of all time

On the route tree it’s known as the “nine” .  But it has other names: the “streak”, the “go”, the “fly”.    Whatever you call it, everyone knows it when they see it, and it’s the most beautiful and most demoralizing play in football.  The bomb.   Now, please don’t confuse the bomb with its cousin the fade.  I’m talking about the deep, straight line route where a receiver lines up wide, the ball is snapped, the quarterback takes a deep drop and lets it loose.  The wide receiver sprints past the defensive back (That’s the key difference between the go and the fade; receivers don’t go past the defender on the fade. The fade is more power than grace) and in a blink, there are six points on the board, and the defense is left shell-shocked.

I am a football nerd.  I love the intricate, strategic things about the game; line splits, route progressions and defensive sub-packages.  But one of my early memories of football was seeing Wesley Walker catching deep balls up the sideline from Ken O’Brien.  While the strategy is what keeps me a football junkie,  the bomb is what hooked me to football.

In an era where teams spread the field to throw it short, and slot receivers are the foundation of many passing games, the fly is typically  just used to clear out space for another receiver’s in-breaking pattern.  The Steelers will take a shot with Mike Wallace a few times a game, but in general, the completed streak pass is a rare sight.  So take notice and appreciate when you see a well executed long ball up the side line.   It really is a thing of beauty.

Holes To Fill

Rusty Costanza/AP/File

Teams in the NFL are constantly preparing for a rainy day.   Because injury and defection is a way of life in the National Football League, teams are always looking to add depth, either through free agency or the NFL Draft.  But sometimes teams can’t solve every roster problem before the season starts.  The 2011 New York Giants were a prime example of this.  Wide receiver Steve Smith left for the Eagles, leaving them with a gaping hole at slot receiver.  Fortunately for them, Victor Cruz emerged after other options failed and the rest, as they say, is history.

The following teams are in a similar situation the Superbowl champs were in last season; with a key role up in the air and without a clear solution.

New Orleans Saints

Head Coach- The “bountygate” scandal has left the Saints with the biggest hole to fill in the NFL.  How does a team overcome the loss of their leader?  Yes the team still has the plays and philosophy, but head coach Sean Payton more than just a daring play caller and tactician.  It’s not the playbook they will miss, the two interim head coaches, Aaron Kromer and Joe Vitt have the plays and know the system.  But the in-game adjustments, the ability to manage the coaching  staff, the experience with the players and what buttons to push, that can’t be duplicated.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Inside Linebacker- The Steelers released long time  defensive leader James Farrior in March.  At first glance there is no player on the roster that will replace Farrior’s production.  Pittsburgh did draft linebacker Sean Spence from the University of Miami in the third round but it would be surprising to see a rookie start at inside linebacker in Dick Lebeau’s complex zone blitz scheme.   Three year veteran Stevenson Sylvester is also in the mix.

New York Giants

Wide Receiver-  Yes the New York Giants head into training camp with questions at wide receiver again.  Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz combined for 2,728 yards and 16 touchdowns, so wide receiver would seem like the least of the Giants worries . However the Giants offense is at its best in their three-wide set and Superbowl hero Mario Manningham is now with the 49ers.  Ramses Barden will probably get the first chance to join Nicks and Cruz but with Barden’s injury history,and lack of production, the “Z” receiver is an area of concern for the Giants.

Houston Texans

Right Tackle-  In March the Texans had to swallow hard and release right tackle Eric Winston to create salary cap room, leaving a huge void on their offensive line.  Houston didn’t draft an offensive tackle until the seventh round and did not pick up a tackle in free agency.  Perhaps the Texans are waiting to sign an older veteran during training camp like Kareem McKenzie.

What other teams have roles they need filled before training camp begins?