Monthly Archives: June 2013

Jim Harbaugh as undisciplined as the Seahawks he mocks

People like to say sports teams take on the personality of the head coach.

Under Mike Holmgren, you could say the Seahawks had a workmanlike personality, never saying or doing anything to intentionally draw attention to themselves. They simply went about their business week after week, seemingly content to stay hidden in the Pacific Northwest with the journalists and bloggers talking about everyone else.

Under Pete Carroll, there’s been a transformation of the Seahawks’ personality. Suddenly, they don’t seem quite so content with being the National Football League’s afterthought. They have chips on their shoulders, and they aren’t afraid to talk about them.

While these two identities couldn’t be more different, they do have one thing in common. They reflect the personality of their head coaches. Holmgren was a proven winner with a formula he saw bring the Lombardi Trophy to Green Bay. So upon arriving in Seattle following the 1998 season, there wasn’t a need for a bunch of fanfare and self-promotion. He saw what he had done, and most importantly, he knew everyone else had seen it too.

Carroll was a proven winner upon coming to Seattle as well. But not a Super Bowl winner. Sure, he had led USC to two Associated Press national championships. Sure, he had dominated the entire land of college football for the better part of a decade. But he hadn’t proven he could win in the NFL, and had actually failed the last time he was given an opportunity. Anyone who thinks Carroll doesn’t coach with a chip on his shoulder couldn’t be more clueless.

Enter Jim Harbaugh and the San Francisco 49ers. Before Harbaugh took over as head coach prior to the 2011 season, the 49ers were the type of team everyone knew was talented, but just couldn’t find a way to consistently prove it. A lot like the Arizona Cardinals prior to Ken Whisenhunt. As the last two years have passed, with San Francisco winning back-to-back NFC West championships and playing in last year’s Super Bowl, the 49ers have finally proven it. Confidence has been a huge part of that. Harbaugh has that confidence, and now San Francisco has it as well.

Harbaugh, however, has another personality characteristic that isn’t so endearing. And if he’s not careful, it could ultimately be what keeps him from ever winning a Super Bowl.

He’s undisciplined.

There’s an unwritten rule that you don’t talk about issues surrounding other teams in the league. You talk about your team, and your team alone.  Harbaugh broke from that code this week when he mused to the media about the Seahawks’ recent performance-enhancing drugs problem.

“I’ve definitely noticed it,” Harbaugh told reporters, responding to a question about the Seahawks’ PED issue. He could have ended it right there. Said it was an issue the Seahawks had to deal with and left it at that. No more comment. But Harbaugh, never one to let a good taunting opportunity go by the wayside, kept going.

“You don’t know what it is,” he continued. “Even when people say what it is, you don’t know that’s what it is. … But the NFL doesn’t release what it actually is. So you have no idea. You’re taking somebody at their word, that I don’t know that you can take them at their word, understanding the circumstances.”

Okay. He got the jab in. Wait, he still wasn’t finished?

“Play by the rules,” he went on. “And you always want to be above reproach. Especially when you’re good, because you don’t want people to come back and say they’re winning because they’re cheating. … So we want to be above reproach in everything and do everything by the rules. Because if you cheat to win, then you’ve already lost.”

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what Harbaugh was saying. You can’t trust the Seahawks to say and do the right thing and they’re a bunch of cheaters.

Reporters all too eager to see the comments escalate into a full-blown media circus asked Carroll what he thought of what Harbaugh said. Carroll squashed the story for the most part, but did allow that he wasn’t sure about talking about someone else’s team.

I suspect Carroll will let his team do the talking on Sept. 15. My guess is the 49ers are going to come to loathe playing Sunday Night Football games in Seattle.

You’d think Harbaugh would have learned his lesson last year after allegedly taunting Seahawks’ players following the 49ers’ 13-6 victory over Seattle in San Francisco. The Seahawks repaid him with a 42-13 beatdown for the whole country to see in December on Sunday Night Football. Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman made sure to get in a shot of his own afterward by declaring it as a birthday present for Harbaugh, who had just turned 49 that day. Sherman actually prodded Coach Carroll to score another touchdown and go for two to give the Seahawks 50 (a gesture dripping with irony since it was Harbaugh’s Stanford team — which included Sherman — that pulled that trick against Carroll while at USC), but Carroll declined, saying that’s not what he’s about.

These shenanigans aren’t anything new for anyone who has followed Harbaugh and what he has done in the past though. Aside from going for two just to get to 50 against USC, Harbaugh continued his taunting after the game as he was walking out to midfield to shake Carroll’s hand. “Look at them all running in,” Harbaugh was heard mockingly saying as the Trojans’ players ran toward the tunnel. Then, at Washington the following year, Harbaugh was heard in the tunnel shouting at his players following a 41-0 Cardinal pasting of the Huskies.

“Dominating!” he reportedly said. “We kicked their ass every which way! One hell of a job on both sides of the line! Dominant, dominant! What are you guys, 5-1, 6-1 against that group? That’s the highest-paid coaching staff around!”

Could have left that for the locker room, but I guess he had to make sure the Huskies fans heard it.

There’s no question certain Seahawks are undisciplined. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t have PED issues. Sherman wouldn’t say he’s better at life than ESPN’s Skip Bayless and goat Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Roddy White. But these are individual players and each individual has his own unique personality. Not everyone on the Seahawks’ roster goes around taking banned substances and talking garbage.

But for a head coach to engage in such childish antics? When it’s been shown that teams take on the personality of the head coach, it’s a problem when that head coach has a personality like Harbaugh’s. How can Harbaugh expect his team to be disciplined if he isn’t himself?

Some will brush off this notion because of the success Harbaugh enjoyed at Stanford, and has enjoyed at San Francisco. But I would caution those people; he’s only been with the 49ers for two years. And a lot of his most successful players were ones he had no hand in putting on the team. It will be interesting to see going forward, the more the players actually become Harbaugh’s own hand-picked players, whether they start to show the same lack of discipline, either on or off the field. I wonder if we’ll ever see one of his players punch a member of the media for calling him out.

One thing’s for sure though. If he wanted to give the Seahawks yet another chip on their shoulders, he succeeded. And we can agree, Sept. 15 can’t come soon enough.

Russell Wilson’s 2013 expectations

It’s still pretty hard to imagine Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, taken No. 75 overall in the 2012 NFL Draft and criticized for his lack of size, had so much success his rookie season.

Even his staunchest supporters from even before the draft (myself included) had no idea he was capable of so much so early.

Now the discussion turns toward 2013 and what Wilson can do to increase his productivity. A pretty arduous task if you consider his 100.0 regular season passer rating a season ago was the highest by a Seahawks quarterback ever, eclipsing even Matt Hasselbeck’s 2005 passer rating of 98.2.

A lot of people wonder how Wilson will react to defenses spending the entire offseason scouting the read option. It seems to always get neglected in these conversations that Wilson has an entire offseason as well to scout the different defenses in the league (and we all know how much a video rat Wilson is), but I suppose it’s a fair point to some extent.

But this is pure conjecture because there’s no way to quantify in statistics or provide serious analysis of exactly what types of challenges Wilson will face now that there’s a “book” on him. The reason there’s the term “sophomore slump” is precisely because it’s pretty much always more difficult for a player who finds success his first year to be able to match that in his second, but I’m going to give Wilson the benefit of the doubt (I think he’s more than earned it!) and say defenses probably won’t be able to figure anything out about how to stop him any more than last year. He has the exact same players he had around him last year in the most important areas, and even some surprise additions with wide receiver Percy Harvin, defensive ends Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett and cornerback Antoine Winfield. The entire team around him has improved, he has another offensive weapon to play with and an entire offseason to sit in the film room. He should be able to negate whatever advantages opposing teams have with their increased efforts in studying him.

One thing Seahawks fans like to talk about when it comes to analyzing Wilson’s efforts in 2012 and projecting for 2013 is how he was decisively better the second half of the season. The statistics are mind-numbing. 

Wilson in Seahawks’ first nine games: 145 of 234 (62.0 percent), 1,639 yards (7.00 yards per attempt), 13 touchdowns (5.56 TD%), 8 interceptions (3.42 INT%), 87.2 passer rating.

Wilson in Seahawks’ last nine games: 146 of 221 (66.1 percent), 2,051 yards (9.28 yards per attempt), 16 touchdowns (7.24 TD%), 3 interceptions (1.36 INT%), 114.3 passer rating.

Just as a point of reference, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers had the highest passer rating in 2012 of 108.0.

And lest one think the defenses were worse the last nine games, they were actually tougher.

Seahawks’ first nine opponents: 3,079 of 4,995 (61.6 percent), 32,581 yards (6.52 yards per attempt), 204 touchdowns (4.08 TD%), 130 interceptions (2.60 INT%), 83.4 passer rating.

Seahawks’ last nine opponents: 2,974 of 5,020 (59.2 percent), 32,313 yards (6.44 yards per attempt), 182 touchdowns (3.63 TD%), 151 interceptions (3.01 INT%), 77.8 passer rating.

Numbers can sometimes be made to say whatever you want them to, but these are pretty straightforward. Against stiffer competition, Wilson didn’t just improve. He completely destroyed it.

So what of the competition in 2013? Is it better or worse than a year ago?

Seahawks’ 2012 opponents (including playoffs with divisional opponents counted twice): 6,053 of 10,015 (60.4 percent), 64,894 yards (6.48 yards per attempt), 386 touchdowns (3.85 TD%), 281 interceptions (2.81 INT%), 80.6 passer rating.

2012 statistics of Seahawks’ 2013 opponents (divisional opponents counted twice): 5,515 of 8,918 (61.8 percent), 60,093 yards (6.74 yards per attempt), 365 touchdowns (4.09 TD%), 259 interceptions (2.90 INT%), 83.2 passer rating.

If numbers are any indication, it seems pretty obvious things should be easier for Wilson in 2013. And compared to the last nine games of last year where Wilson clearly dominated the competition, a lot easier.

Granted, there are some factors that need to be touched on. Most importantly, not all the teams Wilson will face in 2013 that were horrendous last year will be as bad. Tampa Bay added cornerback Darrelle Revis and safety Dashon Goldson, New Orleans will have its head coach back after a year-long suspension along with new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, Tennessee brought in defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and Jacksonville hired Gus Bradley, Seattle’s defensive coordinator last year, as head coach. Seattle set a franchise record for points allowed per game in 2012 under Bradley. But of course there will be defenses that take a step back as well. San Francisco stands out most noticeably with the loss of Goldson as well as Justin Smith being a year older. We saw what happened to the 49ers’ defense in Seattle without Smith, and if he goes down again, it’s easy to see a situation where San Francisco (already without No. 1 wide receiver Michael Crabtree) doesn’t even make the playoffs. Note: San Francisco allowed 29.7 points per game in its final six games last year (including the playoffs). Atlanta also sticks out with the losses of John Abraham, Dunta Robinson and Brent Grimes, although the Falcons did add veteran Osi Umenyiora and draft almost exclusively on the defensive side of the ball, using their first two picks on cornerbacks Desmond Trufant (Washington) and Robert Alford (Southeast Louisiana). Still, without a lot of depth in the front seven, it’s not unreasonable to assume Atlanta’s defense will be worse in 2013.

All numbers aside, what production almost invariably always comes down to is health. If Seattle loses Marshawn Lynch or someone on the defensive side of the ball like Bobby Wagner or Richard Sherman due to injury, all bets are off. If Wilson twists a knee and misses four games, it’s hard to say how that would affect him after he returned. Seahawks fans well remember Hasselbeck never quite being the same in 2006 after missing four games with a strained knee ligament. It destroyed a repeat Super Bowl run.

But based on everything we currently know, without any major injuries (Chris Clemons aside), there’s no legitimate reason to think Wilson can’t firmly entrench himself as one of the NFL’s truly elite quarterbacks in 2013. I wouldn’t bet on 5,000 yards because Seattle will never be that kind of team as long as Lynch is healthy, but 3,500 yards, 35 touchdowns and a passer rating over 105? I’d take that bet in a heartbeat.

Sidney Rice vs. Roddy White: Not as crazy a comparison as it may seem

Trying to keep a web site interesting during the offseason seems almost impossible. There’s only so much you can say about draft picks and OTAs.

Thank goodness for the NFL Top 100 list, because even though I think it’s a ridiculous compilation that in almost no way reflects where players actually deserve to be rated, it can jump start a lot of discussions. Even the ones people aren’t having.

Like this one. If you had to pick Sidney Rice or Roddy White for next year, and next year only, who would you take?

On the surface, this is a ridiculous question. White made No. 39 on the 2013 Top 100 list while Rice wasn’t even an afterthought. And for good reason. White has been in the league for eight years and has played in all 16 games each year. He’s been targeted over 100 times and has amassed over 1,000 yards receiving for six consecutive years. In 2009 and 2010, he posted double-digit touchdown totals.

By comparison, Rice has played in all 16 games just twice since coming into the league in 2007. He’s been targeted over 100 times just once, has compiled 1,000 yards just once and has never had more than eight touchdowns in a season.

In terms of total production, there’s no comparing the two receivers.

But there is one statistic that makes such a comparison not nearly as black and white. Yards per reception.

In 2012, Rice caught 50 passes for 748 yards, a yard-per-reception average of 15.0. Since coming to Seattle prior to the 2011 season, Rice has caught 82 passes for 1,232 yards, a yard-per-reception average of, again, 15.0.

For all White’s receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns, he hasn’t broke 15.0 yards per reception since 2008. His career yard-per-reception average is 14.0 while Rice’s is 14.7.

A lot of people look only at totals. It’s why despite a rather horrendous passer rating of just 79.8 in 2012, Detroit Lions’ quarterback Matthew Stafford is still held in relatively high regard. Come up just 33 yards shy of 5,000 passing yards and people will take notice.

But looking exclusively at totals has always been a poor metric when evaluating a player’s production potential. Some offenses, like Detroit’s, rely heavily on the passing game, while offenses like Seattle’s rely heavily on the running game. Atlanta’s receiving corps in 2012 wasn’t limited to White thanks to Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez, but thanks to Michael Turner’s total ineptitude, White was never going to be hurting for opportunities. Indeed, the Falcons rushed the ball once for every 1.63 pass attempts, the seventh most run-heavy ratio in the NFL.

Looking at averages helps to put each player, no matter what system he plays in, on equal footing.

In a way, comparing Rice and White is a little bit like comparing apples and oranges. At 6’4″, Rice is a much larger downfield threat than White, who stands at 6’0″. This difference is highlighted when delving even deeper into their respective yards-per-reception averages. If you disregard yards after catch, White has averaged 10.0 yards per reception since the NFL started offically calculating yards after catch in 2006. Rice, however, has averaged 11.2 yards. As a bigger receiver, you’d expect Rice to be catching passes further away from the line of scrimmage. But this is the advantage having a big receiver brings. White could make up for it with an exceptional yards-after-catch average, but he hasn’t had a YAC average over 4.0 since 2009.

To be completely fair, White has become a much larger downfield threat since the addition of Jones. Since Jones’ arrival, White’s yards at point of catch average has significantly increased, going from 9.0 in 2010 to 10.9 in 2012. But the fact that Jones’ arrival has precipitated this increase shows he deserves a lot more credit for it than White does. White deserves credit for taking advantage of the addition, but if Rice can do what he’s done opposite Golden Tate — who knowledgeable people would unanimously take Jones ahead of — there’s no reason to think Rice couldn’t be even better opposite Jones. Throw the ball 92 times to Rice in Atlanta’s offense and 1,500 yards would seem to be an extremely reachable goal.

And of course it wouldn’t be fair to not mention White’s exceptional blocking ability. But to mention White’s blocking ability and disregard Rice’s would also be unfair. Just fast forward to the 1:54 mark of this video. Anthony McCoy would have had an easy touchdown if he hadn’t foolishly changed direction. Rice’s downfield blocking helped spring Seahawks runners and receivers downfield on more than one occasion.

In the end, this isn’t a comparison a lot of people are going to accept. Regardless of Rice’s averages, White’s total production is simply too overwhelming. But offer me Rice or White, with Rice’s size, with a better receiver opposite him, and I’ll take him with 90-plus catches every time.