Friday, December 25, 2009

What Remains – The Creamy Center

We continue our look at what this season has meant for many of our (non-playoff bound) characters moving forward with the "middle of the pack," those teams that stand at the door deciding whether or not they'll be knocking...

Seattle Seahawks
(Protagonist: Nate Burleson - "The Third Eye")

Am I the only person who feels sad when I talk about this team? I get the sense that I’m the only one who looks at this roster and sees colors on the palate of the most beautiful painting in the league. Everyone else sees the same shade of gray. In fairness, the results so far have proven them right. Hasselbeck’s ceiling last year was “really competent backup,” and he’s aged a dog year since then. I knew this much. What I didn’t expect was the meltdown at WR that cemented Housh as a beta and cemented Deion Branch as one of the top five trade mistakes of the decade (and I didn’t think he was worth a first rounder THEN). Meanwhile, Julius Jones only succeeded in hiding Justin Forsett’s potential as a lead back, and Seneca Wallace got buried alive by a slew of mistakes by the aforementioned wideouts. Throw in a defense unit that never got healthy at the same time and an offensive line that was never healthy to begin with, and you can see why this team fell out of the sky.

Still, I’m not ready to give up on the dream that was Seattle. Nate Burleson defied the team’s trend and became a legitimate number one wideout with a sixth sense for all moving parts on the field (he finds the ball as well as anyone in the league, and picks angles after the catch that embarrass safeties), and John Carlson continued to develop as the white Antonio Gates (47 receptions for 536 yards and 5 TD). Throw in Forsett’s arrival as a legit power back (90 carries for 475 yards and 4 TD) and the scary defensive tandem at LB of David Hawthorne (whose 103 tackles and 4 sacks are impressive) and rookie Aaron Curry (who had 54 of his 61 tackles ON HIS OWN and 5 tackles for a loss to boot…and he’s at a position where he needs at least a year just to learn the ropes…), and this team STILL has one of the most intriguing rosters on paper in the league. The questions is whether or not they’re willing to believe in the dream they once were. If this team keeps the stable of WRs (minus Branch), develops Forsett and the young LBs, and commits to a boring, trenches oriented draft to support a veteran Seneca Wallace (FREE SENECA WALLACE) in his first year as the clear starter, there’s no reason this can’t just be a dream deferred by injury. If they blow up the core and build around an inexperience rookie at QB (and there really aren’t any GREAT looks this year), well, you’ll miss the prime of just about every position of strength the Seahawks have. Yes, it’s brave to admit the defeat of a vision, but in this case it’s even braver to believe that it was the timing, and not the vision, that was flawed.

San Francisco 49ers
(Protagonist: Michael Crabtree - "The Oldest Young Receiver in Football")

Alex Smith isn’t dead yet, people. In eight games, Smith has thrown for 16 TDs, and has helped Vernon Davis become the dominant pass catching machine he was supposed to be two years ago. Over the nine games in which Smith has played significant time, Davis has caught eight TDsand logged over 60 yards in five of them. In short, Smith was the missing piece this team needed earlier in the year, and has kept this team in tough games since his assumption of the starting role (losses by one TD or less to Houston, Indy, Tennessee, Green Bay, and divisional rival Seattle all scream MINOR adjustments, not major overhauls, are necessary). At this point, is it crazy to think that one more WR (Crabtree is not the downfield burner this unit needs as a final piece) and some line protection could turn Smith into the capable second option to Frank Gore’s greatness (5.3 yards per carry on the year on just 178 carries is very, very impressive)? No, a spread offense doesn’t play to Singletary’s strengths, but given the pieces he has, one would be hard pressed to argue that it isn’t the difference between this offense being top-flight or a collection of misfit toys.

A final note: I was pleasantly wrong about Michael Crabtree. While I wasn’t wrong about how he lacks either elite speed or elite size, I completely missed what might be the best hands on a rookie wide receiver since Jericho Cotchery (he hasn’t had a game with fewer than 3 catches), and a sense for where the marker is rivaled only by Wes Welker (12.2 yards per catch means he is right ahead of where the marker is every time). Furthermore, he already has that rare understanding, one that many receivers never get in their entire careers, that receivers exist primarily to help their quarterbacks. Rather than rigidly stick to obviously failed routes, Crabtree has become Smith’s favorite target when broken plays go to hell, improvising to spot holes in zones and bail out his signal caller. Crabtree is, for all intents and purposes, a younger, taller Derrick Mason (from Mason’s prime), and in retrospect, there’s not a team in the league who would argue that a skill set like that doesn’t merit a top ten pick.

Houston Texans
(Protagonist: Matt Schaub - "Fear and Self Loathing in Houston")

If Gary Kubiak saves his job by going 9-7, the Texans might as well make the announcement at a press conference held on an aircraft carrier with a “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!” banner in the background. To act like this team, and ESPECIALLY that defense, was built for anything less than an AFC South title reflects the fear of failure that characterizes Kubiak, Schaub, Slaton and pretty much everything about the results the Texans produce.

Buffalo Bills
(Protagonist: Ralph Wilson - "Empires Rise and Fall at His Feet")

Wait, so THIS is what it took to kill Jauron? Because at the rate he’d been going, I thought he’d at least have to burn down Ralph Wilson’s home. All things considered, I should have discussed this team with the bottom of the barrel, but if there is one thing that separates this squad, it is the fact that it, more than any other squad in the league, has the most potential to be COMPLETELY destroyed and rebuilt in the offseason, a process we really haven’t seen in the last several years (Mangini’s Browns would be the closest, and he’s going to get fired before he has a chance to realize whatever vision he may have had…bad look, by the way, Cleveland). In other words, FREE TROY SMITH, Buffalo.

Chicago Bears
(Protagonist: Jay Cutler - "Old Testament Shame Sacrifice")

It’s funny how a change in uniform turned Jay Cutler from one of the best quarterback talents of the last five years, the best arm of any quarterback drafted since Carson Palmer, and one of the most brilliantly fearless passers in the league into a selfish malcontent with no regard for his team’s well being, isn’t it? Just look at the league leading 25 picks!!! I mean, far be it from me to disagree with the Bristol brain trust, but let’s just look at some numbers for the sake of stupid argument. Last season, the Bears passing attack put up around 191 yards per game; this season they’re clocking in at just over 210. Cuter is tied for the 12th most TD passes in the league with 19, and every single name ahead of him has at least one elite number one receiver, if not more; Jay Cutler is throwing to a converted cornerback and a slew of poor Jericho Cotchery and Mark Clayton impersonators, none of whom even crack the top 40 in receiving yardage. Oh, and thanks to a rush attack that is putting up almost 20 fewer yards per game and is in the bottom four teams in the league, only four quarterbacks have attempted more passes, two of whom are named Manning and Brady, leading to a 6.44 YPA statistic. And yes, 25 picks is pretty bad, but again, look at those attempts, look at the rushing stats, and then consider that the Bears defense routinely gives up 23 points per game (Lovie Smith is basically Jim Zorn with a more heartwarming story). Yeah, this guy is probably done. RUN HIM OUT OF TOWN AND LET THE CALEB HANIE ERA BEGIN, am I right? It’s not like he goes week after week having to dig this team out of talent deficits by sheer unshakable certainty in his own ability.

Seriously, it’s like nobody WATCHES the games or reads boxscores before they speak on camera…

Carolina Panthers
(Protagonist: Jake Delhomme - "The Albatross")

You know how usually you can use statistics to disprove common logic that one man is responsible for a team’s problems? Carolina has the 4th best rush defense in the league to anchor the 13th best defense overall. Oh, and they’ve got the third best rush attack in the league, along with two backs averaging over 4.5 yards per carry on at least 175 attempts. Meanwhile, their pass attack is 28th in the league and has 20 INTs to 12 TDs (6 of which are due to Steve Smith, who has impressed me with his ability to not murder any of his quarterbacks). Also, I’m pretty sure Jake Delhomme’s bowl haircut is a mathematical liability to the team. Sorry, Jake, numbers don’t lie.

New York Jets
(Protagonist: Braylon Edwards - "Can't Run From Trouble; Ain't No Place That Far...")

This team sits in the middle of this group and the next group, so consider this my personal chance to vent. I have never rooted for a team with more talent and less heart. Dustin Keller ignores every other pass thrown in his direction (a generally laziness that weights heavily on his natural talent), and Braylon Edwards might as well have lobster claws. Shonn Greene refuses to let me love him because of his penchant for fumbling at crucial moments. Damien Woody is the aging veteran who has finally lost his last cheap trick and now gets holding penalties like they were badges of honor. Dwight Lowery isn’t an NFL cornerback, and every time I see Donald Strickland walk on the field the LOST violins start playing as prelude to disaster. Oh, and it isn’t Sunday unless Bart Scott is setting a new low for personal idiocy on the football field. If the quarterback told him the football was in Japan, Bart Scott would leave the field and board a plane to Tokyo. When you play peek-a-boo with Bart Scott, he actually thinks you disappear behind your hands. This team has taken at least two years off of my life. Maybe three.


Alex said...

I'm a Hawks fan and a big fan of your blog. I agree with your general analysis of the Seahawks, but disagree on Seneca's potential. The guy's an athlete for sure, but he's not a QB. He runs into sacks, has zero pocket presence, can't make quick reads, or other generally important QB skills. Maybe had he been practicing as a starter his whole career things could have been different, but he's going to turn 30 before next season. He's not going to learn those things at this point in his career. He can be serviceable for a season and a half while the next guy we draft sits on the bench preparing, but the Hawks need to draft that guy this year. 2 1st round picks, an O lineman to replace Walter Jones and a QB to replace Hasselbeck.

And while Burleson is a wizard after the catch and does surprisingly well in the red zone, his routes aren't anything to write home to mom about. He gives up on plays where he thinks he won't get the ball and has trouble finding holes in zones.

count-shrimpula said...

"This team has taken at least two years off of my life. Maybe three."

Ayup. It's a special kind of Hell being a Jets fan. They just find a new way to rip your heart out every damn year.

Download MP3 said...

I'm a Hawks fan too.