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Seahawks Attempt to Turn Corner With Heavy Pursuit of Pete Carroll

Published: January 9, 2010

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Pete Carroll appeared cool and relaxed on the telecast of Thursday night’s BCS Championship. He calmly questioned Texas coach Mack Brown’s decision to run a shovel pass just before halftime, resulting in an interception for a touchdown and a 24-6 Alabama lead. The USC coach, though, did not seem on the verge of a major career move.

Roughly 12 hours later, Carroll emerged as the leading candidate in the Seahawks’ coaching vacancy after the firing of coach Jim Mora on Friday.

A proposed deal between Carroll and the Seahawks to become the team’s new coach is likely, according to multiple reports. The former New England Patriots and New York Jets coach is set to sign a five-year deal at approximately $7 million a year to become the Seahawks’ president and coach, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Earlier in the week, Carroll met with Seahawks CEO Tod Leiweke in Los Angeles, according to the Los Angeles Times. During a Wednesday press conference, Mora sidestepped a question on whether Leiweke guaranteed his return next season, telling reporters “I haven’t talked to Tod in a day, (he’s) busy with some other things.” The comments may suggest that Leiweke could have been courting Carroll in the days following the Seahawks 17-13 season-ending loss to the Titans.

“We’ve made a tough decision today,” Leiweke said in a statement Friday. “It became apparent after conducting an extensive internal audit, that a new direction was needed to provide an opportunity for the organization to be successful. Today’s decision, while difficult, is part of the process in building a franchise with a new vision in 2010.”

Since USC won the second of back-to-back national titles in January of 2005, Carroll has been approached by several NFL teams, most notably the Atlanta Falcons and Miami Dolphins. The previous deals have reportedly not included an opportunity to serve in a front office capacity, a probable sticking point. A spokesman in the USC Sports Media Relations Department said rumors of Carroll’s return to the NFL have surfaced for the past several years at the end of the college football season.

“Pete’s name comes out at this time every year,” the spokesman said in a statement. “In the past, he hasn’t commented on such reports. At this point, we have nothing to report.”

Ironically, Carroll’s four-year record of 33-31 with the Jets and Patriots is similar to the 31-33 record Mora has compiled in four seasons as a head coach in the league. In the postseason, Mora is 1-1 after leading the Falcons to the NFC Championship in January of 2004, while Carroll is 1-2 in the playoffs. Since Carroll left the Patriots following the 1999 season, however, he has won more than 83 per cent of his games at USC, including seven straight Pac-10 titles from 2002-2008.

During Carroll’s tenure at USC, Seahawks middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu anchored the Trojans’ defense for two years and received First-team All-American honors in the 2004-2005 season.

A year later, Tatupu earned the starting middle linebacker position in Seattle and led the Seahawks to the NFC Championship. In the week leading to the Super Bowl, Seahawks safety Michael Boulware told the Riverside Press-Enterprise that USC would have won the national championship, and the Seahawks would not have captured the NFC title had Tatupu remained in college.

“He (Carroll) sets the bar highit’s like a pro team down there,” Tatupu said in an interview with the Press-Enterprise. “It’s very structured, like a job. You’re expected to perform well.”

Either by fortune or design, Carroll’s defense is structured in the same manner as the scheme used by Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley during the 2009 season. Bradley is a disciple of former Buccaneers defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and operated a system based on the “Tampa Two,” which frequently employed two and three-deep zones.

Kiffin also served as a mentor for Carroll at the University of Arkansas in 1977, when the young coach was an assistant in the secondary in the defensive coordinator’s system. It is there Carroll learned the principles of the 4-3 under blitz, predicated on jamming the box with up to eight defensive players.  

“In principle, we want to give our players a chance to know exactly what they have to defend.  We also want to give them an attitude in which to do that.  We want to be an attacking, aggressive football team,” Carroll said in a speech during a Nike coaching clinic. “We want to attack into the gap at the snap, get off the ball to play on their side of the field and get after the quarterback.” 

One Seahawks’ player familiar with Carroll’s tendencies on offense is wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. The former Cerritos (Calif.) College wideout has spent the past several offseasons working out with Trojans quarterbacks, receivers and defensive backs. This past summer, Houshmandzadeh took extensive repetitions with USC freshman quarterback Matt Barkley.

“One can only assume coming from SC, (Carroll’s) had a lot of success,” Houshmandzadeh told Seattle-area radio station ESPN 710 on Friday. “Guys are going to listen to what he has to say because of his track record. I think his experience will help him out.”

Before a deal with Carroll is finalized, the Seahawks must fulfill the requirements of the league’s Rooney Rule by interviewing a minority candidate for both their coaching and general manager vacancies. John Wooten, chairman of the Fritz Pollard Minority Alliance, said in a phone interview Friday afternoon that he spoke with Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier earlier in the day.

Wooten said Frazier expects to meet with Seahawks officials, despite previous reports that the Minnesota assistant coach declined an interview. Frazier is expected to interview with the Seahawks on Saturday in Minneapolis, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

The chairman of the alliance also said Seahawks officials have indicated they will create two separate positions for president and general manager of the team. Wooten said he provided Seahawks officials with a list of minority candidates that includes: Giants Director of College Scouting Marc Ross, Lions Vice President of Pro Personnel Sheldon White, Texans Director of Pro Personnel Brian Gardner, Chiefs Director of Pro Personnel Ray Farmer and Titans Director of Pro Scouting Lake Dawson.

The Seahawks could fulfill the requirements of the Rooney Rule by naming Carroll as team president and a minority candidate such as Ross as general manager, the Seattle Times reported. Wooten added that Seahawks officials indicated to him that they would begin the interviewing process for general manager next week.

In terms of minority coaching candidates, Wooten said the list he provided to Seahawks officials includes: Frazier, Dolphins wide receiver coach Karl Dorrell, former Buffalo interim coach Perry Fewell, Saints wide receiver coach Curtis Johnson, Broncos running backs coach Bobby Turner, and Ravens defensive backs coach Mark Carrier. Carrier earned First-team All-American honors as a safety at USC.

Houshmandzadeh said the possibility of Carroll’s hire could invigorate a locker room in strife at the tail-end of the season. The Seahawks finished 5-11 and lost their final four games by a combined margin of 123-37. As the players cleared out their lockers on Monday, several openly questioned their trust in the offense.

“Everybody has something to prove,” Houshmandzadeh said of the possibility of playing for Carroll. “It’s like meeting a woman for the first time (and) taking her on a date, man. You got to do everything you can to impress her. We are all on high alert, we have to come out and do our best.”

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Seattle Seahawks: How Pete Carroll Succeeds in Seattle

Published: January 9, 2010

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In one day, I’ve gone from excited and optimistic, to extremely disappointed, and back to optimistic.

I was excited when Jim Mora was relieved of his duties as head coach, as many you know of my criticism of his coaching abilities. Then, when I heard of his “all over but the crime” replacement, Pete Carroll, I was disappointed.

I knew of his past coaching stints with the Jets and Patriots among others, and I wasn’t pleased. I also thought about his style, and how it would work outside the college game. I mean, his spirit and attitude are one of USC college attendee; he’s a 21-year-old in a 58-year-old’s body.

I hit rock bottom when I heard this quote on SportsCenter earlier this afternoon: “Quarterback that can take him to the SB right away in Hasselbeck.”

(Shudder) Let’s just disregard that and file it under the “ESPN is just assuming things because they have no idea what goes on in the Pacific Northwest” file.

Since then, I’ve come around to this conclusion. I believe Pete Carroll can succeed IF he takes on just the head coach hat and a semi-Holmgren position where he orchestrates his big picture.

If he wants to be GM and head coach, he will fail, and he will bring the Seahawks down with him.

This is how I see it happening. Carroll comes in as the coach and Team President. He then hires a GM who is superb at evaluating talent, especially in the college game. I do not want our three top 40 picks becoming a USC lovefest.

This way of doing things has worked in the NFL recently, particularly with the Eagles organization. If it wasn’t for Andy Reid’s inability to win the big game (or any game) he’s supposed to win, especially in the playoffs, Philadelphia would have multiple Super Bowl rings.

Because Reid is only relaying his big picture to his GM, not getting his hands dirty as far as management, he’s able to stay sane enough to be able to be an effective and successful coach.

Bill Belichick does the same thing, as did Holmgren in our glory days.

Also, unlike his previous stints, Carroll will get the respect of an NFL Head Coach. Because of his monster success at USC, he can act as young and foolish as he wants, and still command respect from his players.

People now know that he can get the job done. I highly doubt that he becomes Mora 2.0.

Another reason to like this move is Carroll’s 3-4 defense. This is a great move seeing how our strength is in our linebackers, not our D-Line.

This defense will work if we can obtain a true two gap protector (Not Colin Cole, he’s a no gap protector, kind of like a blocking sled the opposing lineman use in practice). That opportunity will come up in the draft in Dan Williams, nose tackle out of Tennessee.

Williams is an absolute head stomper on the field, while being humble enough off it to give his all for an atrocious football team. He and Mebane are two damn good top gap protectors who’ll free our linebackers to penetrate and collect sacks and TFL’s.

That’s the other thing about this move. If Carroll, Todd Leiweke, and the new GM play their cards right, they’ll might be able to convince top free agents to buy into the fact that this club is turning the corner. Getting Carroll over some no-name former offensive assistant somewhere can do that for you.

If this move pans out, Seattle may be able to capture a weak division crown as early as next year.

Just please, Pete, realize Hasselbeck is done and is not our QB of the future.

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The Most Improbable Championship: the 2001 New England Patriots

Published: January 8, 2010

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This is part two of a decade retrospective. Part one is here.

Looking back, it’s hard to appreciate just how absurd the 2001 Super Bowl championship Patriots season was.

This was a team that had gone nowhere in 2000 and looked to be going nowhere once again. The Pats had made moves, to be sure, but they were all veterans on the downside of their careers (Bryan Cox, Otis Smith, Roman Phifer), players who hadn’t done anything yet (Mike Vrabel, David Patten), and castoffs (Antowain Smith, Jermaine Wiggins).

In fact, they opened the season by losing to the woeful (as in “just coming off a solid decade of losing seasons” woeful) Cincinnati Bengals. (Though the Bengals did go on to post an 8-8 record that year behind Jon Kitna. Go figure.)

Then came the events of Sept. 11, and everything was thrown into chaos. The nation, looking for something to distract itself from an ever-darkening world outlook, turned to sports.

The NFL cancelled its games that weekend, moving the Patriots’ contest with the (then 1-0, but eventually 1-15) Carolina Panthers to the end of the season. Instead, the Pats would face off against their hated rival, the New York Jets.

In that sloppy game, Bledsoe took a hard hit from linebacker Mo Lewis, and the franchise’s fortunes changed forever. In stepped a young, unknown sixth-rounder from Michigan: Tom Brady. The Pats, though, still lost the game.

(To continue my Bledsoe love from the last installment: Bledsoe was ridiculuously injuredhe had a sheared blood vessel and was bleeding internally. He came back in on the next series. He took an insane amount of punishment to give his team the best chance to win. Again, underrated.)

Brady was an odd choice to start the next game, against a ferocious Indianapolis team. After all, the Patriots had Damon Huard, a veteran who had backed up Dan Marino (and had filled in admirably during Marino’s occasional absences). Yet Belichick had confidence in the young player and had the chutzpah to bet his career on that feeling.

The Pats crushed the Colts, 44-13, in a day where the defense reigned supreme. Cox set the tone early, nailing Colts receiver Jerome Pathon over the middle. Otis Smith and Ty Law each got a pick-six, and the Pats had put up 20 points before the Colts even got on the board.

Someone once said (I think it was Charlie Weis) that the 2001 Patriots had suffered in the first few games because Bledsoe had become the franchise guythat is, when things got rough, everyone would stand around and wait for him to make a play.

Thing is, you can’t play football that way. Plays develop when everyone on the field is trying to make things happen. So Bledsoe wouldn’t be able to change things, and the team would lose.

That theory is true, and I think this game shows it. Brady actually did very little to win this gamehe was 13-of-23 for 168 yards and no TDsbut everyone else stepped up their game, and they crushed a superior team.)

The Pats also dropped their next game to the Dolphins, with Brady going a lackluster 12-of-24 for 86 yards (though opposing QB Jay Fiedler only threw for 87 yards in a game that set offensive football back 75 years).

The next game, though, is where the legend of Brady truly began. New England was facing off against a resurgent Chargers team (3-1 after a 1-15 season) and Doug Flutie. The Pats were down by 10 in the fourth, but Brady let the team on field-goal and touchdown drives (the latter coming with 36 seconds left in the game), tying the game up. In a recurring theme, Adam Vinatieri kicked the game winner in overtime.

(This game sent the Chargers into a tailspin. They finished 5-11 and dumped Flutie for then-rookie Drew Brees. Essentially, this game ended Flutie’s career. Sorry, Doug.)

(Also, this was the only game in which then-star-receiver Terry Glenn played, because he got into a tiff with Belichick. That’s rightwith Bledsoe injured and Glenn deactivated, the Pats played 13 of their 16 games without either of their offensive stars.)

The Pats were 5-4 heading into a game with the reigning Super Bowl-champion St. Louis Rams.

They made it a tight game, even leading at one point, but Smith fumbled on the goal line, and they ended up losing by seven. Still, the game showed that the Patriots could face off against the top teams in the league.

The Pats would not lose again that season.

Their first-round matchup was against the hated Raiders, and became one of the few games in NFL history to receive a nickname: The Tuck Rule game. It was played in a driving snowstorm, and much of the game was unremarkable.

The Pats were down by 10 when Brady dropped back, pumped his arm and was hit by corner Charles Woodson. The ball came loose, and it was ruled a fumble on the field, with the Raiders recovering.

Upon further review, referee Walt Coleman determined that Brady’s arm was still moving forward and, though he obviously had no intention of passing, the loose ball was still a forward pass.

The rest of the game seemed inevitable. The Patriots tied it up, and Vinatieri hit the hardest kick of all time to win the game in overtime.

Raiders fans, of course, claim the call was unfair. Even if this call was completely wrong (it wasn’t), you could claim it was karma from 1976, in which an infamous “phantom roughing the passer” call was made against the Patriots in a playoff game against these same Raiders. The call gave the Raiders the game, and they ended up as eventual Super Bowl champions.

It all balances out.

The AFC Championship game against the Steelers was when it became apparent that this team was living in some alternate-universe sports movie.

Brady was knocked out of the game in the second quarter, leaving – who else – Drew Bledsoe to lead this team to victory. Bledsoe completed his first pass in months, then took a hard hit as he was running out of bounds (in a play eerily similar to the one that ended his tenure as Patriots starting quarterback). He responded by nailing a pass to David Patten in the corner of the end zone.

(What few people remember, though, was that Bledsoe’s performance for the rest of the game was somewhat… lackluster. He went 10 for 21 and 102 yards, and the team’s only other offensive points that day came from a Vinatieri field goal in the fourth quarter.)

(By the way, check out Troy Brown’s punt return touchdowns that year. The dude would just run straight ahead, parting defenses like the Red Sea. I haven’t seen anyone do that since.)

The only team standing between the Pats and glory was the Rams.

This team looked laughably overmatched, like the team that lost to the Bears 46-10 in Super Bowl XX. Hell, the game was even being played in the same buildingthe Louisiana Superdome.

From the start, though, things seemed to break the Patriots’ way. Even the introductions seemed charmed, with the Pats choosing to be introduced as a team, instead of player-by-player.

Watching the team video from 2001, you can see Ricky Proehl, just before introductions, saying, “Tonight, the dynasty is born.” That must’ve really pissed the Pats off, because not only did they beat him in this Super Bowl, but they came back and defeated his Panthers team in 2003.

The lesson? Never say anything camera-worthy before a big game.)

The Patriots jumped to a 14-3 lead, behind an overpowering defense (which led to a 47-yard Law interception return for a TD).

The first game against the Rams had helped, after all. In David Halberstam’s book “The Education of a Coach,” he recounts how Belichick solved the Rams’ “Greatest Show on Turf” offense.

According to Halberstam, Belichick realized the Rams attack was centered around running back Marshall Faulk. In the first game, Belchick had though Kurt Warner was the key figure, and attacked him without effect. Through film study, Belichick saw that Faulk set the team’s rhythm, and told his players to constantly hit Faulk, no matter where he was on the field.

Many said Rams coach Mike Martz was foolish for not using Faulk enough. Belichick’s defense, though, kept Martz from using Faulk in the way he wished to use the back. Martz was unwilling to change to a more successful, but less comfortable, way of doing things.

The Rams rallied quickly, scoring a quick 14 points in the fourth quarter to tie the game.

The Patriots got the ball with 1:21 left in the game. John Madden said Belichick should play for overtime. Belichick disagreed.

(Tom Brady said offensive coordinator Charlie Weis gave him the tactical plan for the drive – try a few safe throws, and see where things go. He then went to Bledsoe, who told him to “just sling it.” Who says that? If you needed further proof that this season was life imitating some insane sports movie, there it is.)

Brady threw a couple of passes to running back J.R. Redmond, then found Troy Brown with a 23-yard strike.

Spiked ball. Vinatieri kick. Patriots win, 20-17.

(Catch part three on Monday)

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NFL Playoff Preview: Rematches and The Significance They Bear

Published: January 8, 2010

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So this is how the NFL does a doubleheader.  

This weekend, three games will feature matchups between teams that played each other just a week before.

So it begs the question: Just how is the game planning affected?

A lot of times, it depends on the context and scenario’s from the previous week, the regular season finale.  

Each situation is different.  Some teams had everything locked up, some had everything to play for, and some had fates that fell somewhere in between.

That said, here’s a look at each game and the dynamics surrounding them.

Cincinnati Bengals vs. New York Jets

Going into last week’s game, the Bengals essentially had everything wrapped up, postseason-wise.  

The Jets, on the other hand, were fighting for their playoff lives.

So, were the Bengals playing a vanilla scheme, as to not tip their hand for a future playoff meeting?  Or are they in trouble?  

Coach Marvin Lewis has been relatively coy this week, not divulging any information of note, as well he shouldn’t.  But chances are, a better Cincinnati team will take the field this Sunday.  Plus, they’ll now be in their own stadium.

Conventional wisdom says that it’s the Jets who have the most scheming to do, given that it was they, having everything to play for, who showed the Bengals everything they had.  

Granted, Chad Ochochinco and Co. stumbled a bit towards the end of the season.  But on the whole, Cincinnati remains fundamentally sound.  

Throw in the fact that they should be playing emotional, inspired football in the wake of Chris Henry’s death, and this team should be dangerous.   

Pick: Cincinnati

Dallas Cowboys vs. Philadelphia Eagles

Last week, with the NFC East title on the line, the Eagles got shellacked by the hungry and resurgent Cowboys.  

While that might initially cue the red flags and warning signs in Philly, there’s actually no need to panic as much as some might think.  

See, the pressure’s on Dallas.  Having to beat a team twice in a year is hard; beating them three times is even more difficult.  Plus, it is they, not the Eagles, who have everything to lose.  

After years of December futility, the Cowboys finally put together a decent winning streak last month.  Can they keep it up?  

Also, their embattled coach, Wade Phillips, must win this game to keep his job, recent success be damned.  At least that’s what most are saying, anyway.  Who really knows what goes on in the mind of the mercurial Jerry Jones.  

So, all of that said, look for Philadelphia to be looser, more hungry and loaded with tricks up their sleeves.  Rest assured the players have been reading the press reports all week that have them getting blown out by the Cowboys.  

Pick: Philadelphia

Arizona Cardinals vs. Green Bay Packers

Other than players’ personal statistics, the Cardinals really didn’t have too much to play for last week.  And it almost bit them in the butt, with Anquan Boldin getting injured.

The Packers, on the other hand, are one of the hottest teams in the league right now, peaking at just the right time.  

Then again, Arizona is sporting a better record and winning percentage in the final three games than they did last year, when they went to the Super Bowl.  

Look for the Cardinals to have a few more wrinkles in their scheme than the Packers. Green Bay defensive coordinator, Dom Capers, will no doubt be coming up with a plan to disrupt the timing-dependent Kurt Warner.  

And no doubt Arizona coach Ken Wishenhunt knows this.  With another chance given to them after a heart-breaking loss in the title game last year, they will be on a mission to better their playoff showing.  

This won’t be your same old, inconsistent Cardinals.  The question, however, is whether or not Green Bay can weather the storm.  

At any rate, this game promises to have an intriguing result no matter who wins.  

Why?  The winner will face the Vikings the next week in the divisional round.  Either way you slice it, there’re storylines aplenty; both squads have an interesting history this year with the Minnesota Brett Favres.   

Pick: Cardinals  

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this weekend is the fact that no matter their respective division, all teams have the proverbial “knowing each other well” factor going on.  

As we all know, that makes for much better football.  In fact, this could be one of the more interesting and noteworthy wild card weekends in recent memory.  

An honorable mention on this list is the New England vs. Baltimore game.  They, too played each other back in Week Four.  

So, sit back and savor the storylines.

Relish the higher level of intensity.  

Just don’t let anyone tell you this weekend is short on excitement.   

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What Pete Carroll to Seattle Could Mean For The Seahawks Draft

Published: January 8, 2010

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Rumors continue to swirl this evening about Pete Carroll being courted for the now vacant head coaching job in Seattle.  While nothing is definite (yet), let’s take a moment and speculate on just what that could mean for the Seahawks in the upcoming draft.

The Seahawks are coming off a forgettable 5-11 campaign, one that saw the eventual termination of Jim Mora Jr.  While the roster needs for the Seahawks may seem plenty, really filling the void at just a few spots would go a long way.

The most staggering stat that you see when running down the rankings of 2009 is that Seattle was 30th in pass defense, 22nd in interceptions.  If you ever wanted to hire a guy to help with that, Carroll’s your man.  He’s held defensive coordinator positions and defensive backs coaching gigs at various collegiate and NFL stops in his career.  He’s got an impressive pedigree of defensive players from USC in the NFL now (Troy Polamalu, Lofa Tatupu, Clay Matthews, Brian Cushing, etc), so picking the right players to fit a team should be no problem.

Seattle has two first round selections in the 2010 draft, the sixth spot and 14th spot.  If Carroll is gunning for a defensive back with either spot, he can probably count out Tennessee’s Eric Berry, who is a virtual lock to be a top five pick. 

That leaves Carroll’s own All-American project, safety Taylor Mays.   Mays was built up to be the west coast Eric Berry, but his senior season was not overly impressive.  He ended with only one interception, and his size (6-3, 236) leaves many wondering if he may eventually project as a linebacker.  Though he does bring tremendous speed to the table.

So then what about Florida’s shut down CB Joe Haden?  He’s only  a junior, but has declared for the draft and is ranked by many to be the top corner in the draft. 

Carroll would have his choice between Mays and Haden, but Haden may be the safer pick for a true DB. 

The other need for Seattle is on offensive line, with a group that was in the bottom third of the league in sacks allowed.  Many think Oklahoma State OT Russell Okung will be a top 5 pick, just out of the Seahawks’ reach.  Should he fall to the sixth spot, there’s no reason Seattle shouldn’t snatch him up.  By far the best tackle in this year’s class.

Should Okung be gone, there are numerous other tackles to choose from.  The best though is Anthony Davis from Rutgers.  At 6-6 325 he’s a massive size perfect for run blocking in the NFL, something the Seahawks must improve upon (they finished 25th in run yards per game).  Other potential OL picks would be Bruce Campbell from Maryland, Bryan Bulaga from Iowa, or USC’s own Charles Brown.

Filling the defensive back and offensive line with first round talent would be a great start for Carroll.  But we know the Trojans are more than grinders and smash mouth defenders.  He’s got a vast array of offensive weapons, and perhaps he’d be looking for that in the first round.

Many have suggested the Seahawks should target a quarterback.  With a QB class that’s pretty deep, there’s no need to get on in the first round.  You’ll have Bradford and McCoy and Clausen go off in the first round likely, but there will be talent behind them with guys like Jevan Snead from Ole Miss and Dan LeFevour from Central Michigan.  Carroll can afford to be patient with a QB, since Hasselback still has some good years left.

But perhaps a speedy tailback that’s versatile in the passing game would help?  Look no further than Clemson’s CJ Spiller, a dynamic playmaker from the running back position and as a wideout.  Spiller excels best, however, in the return game.  Seattle had 109 receptions from the running back position in 2009, proving the guys in the backfield do more than just run with the ball. 

Seattle does have a decent pair of backs in Julius Jones and Justin Forsett, so it would be hard to see exactly where Spiller would fit in right away beyond special teams.  Do you use a first round pick on a special teams guy?  It may not hurt to help Seattle’s aging receiving corps and get a wideout.  There’s plenty in this draft, and either Illinois’ Arrelious Benn or Cincinnati’s Mardy Gilyard should be lingering in the second round for Carroll to pounce on.

Look for an interesting draft from Seattle regardless of who their coach is.  With so many potential roster spots to fill and two first-round picks, big decisions await the new head man at Qwest Field.

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Oakland Raiders, Fix Your Run Defense!

Published: January 8, 2010

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I’m going to give you a solution to a problem that has been agonizing to fans for the past several seasons. Follow my steps and you’ll be on the quick road to a successful run defense in 2010 Oakland Raiders.

The first thing that you need to do is get Richard Seymour back. Not hard. I think he wants a nice fat chunk of change, so give it to him. He is your best defensive lineman at this point and has said he wants to help turn it around. If he doesn’t like your offer, then franchise him.

The next move should be to re-sign Kirk Morrison. He will eventually be our new strong side linebacker.

That leads me to item number three. Sign the free agent defensive tackle Vince Wilfork from the New England Patriots. I have a few things few things to add to this suggestion.

First of all, Bill Bellacheat thinks that he creates players in his system, and therefore finds it hard to make the owner pay them when there time comes to be paid, because he can just make a new one in their absence. Unless, of course, you are Tom “The Golden Boy” Brady, then your poop is golden.

Odds are, Vince will want a big contract similar to the one received by Albert Haynesworth, courtesy of the Washington Redskins last year. History with free agents and the Patriots suggest they will not accommodate his desires.

Al Davis should give it to him. I’m not saying it has to be as big as Haynesworth’s, you could cut some years off the deal, but it should be lucrative enough to garner his interest over other teams. Reuniting him with Richard Seymour could be a great motivational factor for Wilfork.

He is a young guy who has been a force in the 3-4 alongside former teammate Richard Seymour. I would just love to see what the two players can do in the 4-3 when they have less people to block them and will force opponents to keep additional blockers in to help the offensive line.

Another good reason is because I’m sick of the Patriots, all Raiders’ fans should be. What better way to get back at them for Randy Moss and the “Tuck Rule” then to take their two best defensive linemen over the past 20 years and plug them into our system. We have part one, now it is time for part two.

The last step to turning this from a potentially good defensive unit, to a potentially great, and good on a bad day unit, is to draft Alabama middle linebacker Rolando McClain.

McClain is a smart player who is already into film study. He has a great work ethic and is very instinctive on the football field. He is the leader of a Crimson Tide defense that shut down the high powered Florida offense in the SEC Championship game.

McClain is 6’4″ and weighs 258 pounds. He is a really big linebacker, which you would tend to think would make him very durable. His speed is rumored to be in the high 4.4 range to the mid 4.6 forty yard dash range. That gives him the triple threat; height, weight, speed combination that Al Davis desires.

Crimson Tide head coach, Nick Saban, said having McClain on the field is like having a defensive coordinator as a player. Kirk Herbstreit said that he plays as fast as somebody who is 220 pounds, and said that McClain can take a call from the sidelines and adjust his defensive comrades to a different role on a play within seconds.

Now, there are a couple problems with this scenario. For one, McClain has not yet declared himself for the NFL Draft. Problem No. 2 is that when, and if he does, he might be one of those players who flies up the draft board. Right now he is ranked seventh on the Scout’s Inc.’s “Top 32″ list. The Raiders draft pick is No. 8.

These few moves would complete the defense. Add a nickel corner in free agency or the draft, and the rest of your offseason signings can be devoted to offensive linemen if you’d like. But we need to fix the run defense, for one, the passing defense finished seventh in the league, and for two, defense wins championships.

There you go Raider Nation. Now all we have to do is convince Al Davis! 

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Oakland Raiders: Was Rich Gannon’s Offer To Help Sincere?

Published: January 8, 2010

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There is no sugar-coating it. Ever since Rich Gannon retired the Raiders have been bad.

And since then Gannon has been a harsh critic. Publicly stating his displeasure for the way the Raiders organization is being run and for how the team is being coached.

Lately Gannon has been making a lot of noise regarding the Raiders on his sports talk show on Sirius Radio or as a CBS sports analyst.

First Gannon allegedly went back and broke down every one of JaMarcus Russells’ pass attempts. He wrote a detailed report concluding and suggesting that Russell could be great with his help.

Then on Sirius Radio Gannon told us that he has been reaching out to Russell offering to tutor the young QB.

But the young QB didn’t even bother to respond or awknowledge the former MVP’s offer (how rude).

But the Raiders already have a great QB coach in Paul Hacket, the same coach who Gannon praised so highly for being a master of fundamentals, and credited for his own development.

So to quote John Herrara:

“What does Rich Gannon think he has to offer that Paul Hackett can’t contribute, when he himself said Paul Hackett is the best quarterbacks coach that he ever had?”

And then most recently on Sirius Radio Gannon said this:

“I did something yesterday that I can’t believe even I did. I picked up the phone and I reached out to Al Davis.”

“So I called Mr. Davis, I have not spoken with him yet, but I’m happy to help out in any way I can. I’d love to help JaMarcus Russell if he wants help. I’d love to help Tom Cable and that organization. It’s important. Listen, seven straight seasons where they’ve lost 11 or more games? Something’s not right.”

Then Gannon went on to play the victum and act as if he was baffled and shocked when the Raiders denied him.

Really Rich? After years of playing for the Raiders and working with and covering the franchise and all your insider information, you should know better.

Gannon went on to say he isn’t interested in coaching but has helped Aaron Rodgers as well as QBs in Minnesota and Tampa Bay by request.

So is Gannon sincere in his offers to help the Raiders, JaMarcus Russell and Davis, or does he have an ulterior motive?

With Gannons’ shaky history with the Raiders, there is a lot to suggest he isn’t so sincere.

Sure Gannon was a great QB with the Raiders, but to be blunt, no one liked him. He never saw eye to eye with Gruden or Davis, his teammates despised him and the local media hated him.

Tim Brown had this to say about Gannon:

“Even hearing a guy like Gannon say something negative about the organization is really wrong. Gannon knows that he came there with that `I hate the Raiders’ type mentality. He came in there with that, and showed that to all the players. Gannon wasn’t a very well-like player his whole time with the Raiders. In fact he was downright hated, and if not for my intervention, a lot of times, there would have been times he would have been sure-enough jumped on, almost. So for a guy like Rich to say something just isn’t fair to the organization, I don’t believe.”

Then there’s the fact that the Raiders have tried to ban Gannon from the Raiders facility the last two years. Clearly they just don’t want him around.

Regarding some of Gannons’ comments earlier this year Herrara had this to say:

“He seems to be a guy who can’t get over the fact that he played the worst Super Bowl in the history of the game and he wants to blame everybody but himself,” Herrera said on Sept. 26. “I guess it’s our fault he threw five interceptions.”

That one had to burn Gannon a little. But I can’t say he didn’t have that coming. While in Oakland Gannon was always quick to throw his teammates and coaches under the bus after every loss.

After all of that why would Gannon even think that Davis wants his help? Why would the Raiders even let Gannon touch their $61 million QB. Tom Cable thinks he’s done a good job, so why would he want any help?

And if Gannon really reached out to Russell and received no response, why make it public? Same goes for his call to Davis.

Is it possible Gannon is doing all of this to boost the ratings of his show on Sirious radio, or to increase his exposure as a CBS analyst, and that he never had any real interest in helping the Raiders.

Or could the unthinkable have happened? Is it possible that Gannon has forgiven the Raiders, put aside his feud with Davis, and is sincere in his offers to help the Silver and Black?

If Gannon is sincere then he is also very hard headed. If not he is just trying to stir the bees’ nest that is the Oakland Raiders.

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The Cincinnati Bengals Should Win On Wild-Card Weekend

Published: January 8, 2010

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New York Jets @ Cincinnati Bengals

The Jets are crested with bravado right now, thanks to their effervescent head coach Rex Ryan. They are also a week removed from easily kicking the Bengals all over the field at the last event to ever take place in the Meadowlands.

What To Watch From The Jets

Thomas Jones is a running back that leads the charge in the team’s offensive game plan. He has carried the team much of the season, since their passing game has mostly been impotent. The ten year veteran has averaged a steady 4.2 yards per carry on a career high 331 attempts. His 1,402 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground are also career high marks.

Jones caught a career low 10 passes this year, but has averaged nearly 30 throughout his career. He is perhaps a weapon the Jets can use in the passing attack, since the Bengals may disregard him in this area.

Rookie Shonn Greene spells Jones, and has been very impressive. He has played 14 games, but has been used in just five games with frequency. He has still piled up 540 yards at a average of five yards per carry. He hasn’t been used in the passing game at all, but he helps keep the Jets churning forward.

The Jets rank first in the NFL in rushing first downs, total rushing plays and yardage. This speaks very highly of their offensive line. The unit is strongest on their left side behind guard Alan Faneca and center Nick Mangold, and left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson. All are Pro Bowl players.

Darrelle Revis is a shutdown cornerback, plain and simple. He is the guy who will be assigned to shadow Chad Ochocinco, forcing the Bengals to try to find their offense elsewhere. Veteran Lito Sheppard bookends the Pro Bowler, and Dwight Lowery is one of the top third cornerbacks in the league. This is the group who will have to carry the team, and allow Ryan to crowd the line of scrimmage with his blitz schemes.

David Harris is the teams star on the front seven of the defense. Harris has piled up 126 tackles, six sacks, two interceptions and forced two fumbles, but will be playing on a tender ankle. Sione Pouha has done a respectable job replacing injured Pro Bowl nose tackle Kris Jenkins, which helps to allow Harris and fellow inside linebacker Bart Scott to excel.

The Jets have a pair of average safeties, and can be exploited up the middle. If Harris isn’t able to play to his capabilities, the Bengals will punch the ball up the Jets gut all day.

Rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez has struggled mightily this year, throwing 20 interceptions. Yet he is the only rookie quarterback starting in the playoffs.Though Sanchez has had a lot thrown at him by opposing defenses this year, Bengals coaches Marvin Lewis and Mike Zimmer will be looking keep him off balanced all game.

What To Watch From The Bengals

Running back Cedric Benson was the nicest surprise to happen for the Bengals this year. He has churned out a career high 1,251 yards despite missing three games and most of a fourth. If he is going good, it enables quarterback Carson Palmer to methodically pick apart defenses in a controlled and well balanced attack.

Ochocinco is the Bengals main receiving weapon, and has stepped up his game after the team lost fellow wide receivers T.J Houshmanzadeh before the season, and the late Chris Henry during the season. He leads the team with nine touchdowns, and has caught 72 balls. He should keep Revis busy all day.

The Bengals offensive line was thought to be a huge question mark before the season began, so they drafted tackle Andre Smith with the sixth overall pick in the first round. Smith, however, has appeared in just six games and started once. Right guard Bobbie Williams was perhaps the only known commodity for this unit coming in, but the group has been quietly excellent all season.

Though neither the Jets nor Bengals rush the passer particularly well, Cincinnati has an excellent pair of cornerbacks in Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph. Both have six interceptions each and have defended 44 balls combined. They set the tempo of the Bengals defense.

The Bengals have an issue at the free safety position. Chris Crocker missed last week because of an ankle injury, and his replacement Tom Nelson hurt his knee replacing him. Though the Bengals safeties are good at defending the run, none are considered excellent pass defenders. Jets tight end Dustin Keller could be in line for a huge game.

Quarterback : Definite Edge Bengals

Running Back : Slight Edge Jets

Receivers : Even

Offensive Line : Edge Jets

Defensive Line : Edge Bengals

Linebacker : Edge Jets

Secondary : Even

Special Teams : Slight Edge Bengals

Coaching : Even

The Bengals can basically rely on their passing attack more. Both teams are run heavy offenses with excellent cornerbacks on defense. Expect it to be a standstill in the trenches, because both teams should be able to have some success. The key will be if the Bengals can create more turnovers, perhaps scoring off of one.

Bengals 27  Jets 17

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Chicago Bears: Lovie Smith Already Looks Wrong

Published: January 8, 2010

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LAKE FOREST, IL—When some one says something stupid, it’s funny how fast these stupid things can come back to haunt someone.

Take Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith, for instance.

When asked Tuesday, whether team president Ted Phillips had given him a win-or-else ultimatum for 2010, Smith responded by skirting the issue.

However, at the end of his answer he chose to change subjects and brought up an earlier question given to general manager Jerry Angelo. The question was whether it would be difficult finding qualified coordinator candidates to come here with the chance they could be coming for only one year.

“Coaches don’t deal in long-term commitments and things like that,”  Smith lectured. “It’s about getting the job done right away.

“There will be a lot of candidates that will come and want to be a part of what we’re going to do next year.”

This brings up the curious case of Jeremy Bates, USC’s offensive coordinator and one of the coaches integral in Bears quarterback Jay Cutler’s development while with the Denver Broncos.

According to numerous reports, the Bears are known to have reached out to Bates.
For someone like Bates, Chicago would be a good opportunity. Nevertheless, it very well could be a one-year opportunity.

On Friday, word broke in Seattle that USC coach Pete Carroll is the man most likely to replace fired coach Jim Mora Jr., and ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported Carroll is trying hard to recruit Bates to join him with the Seahawks.

So much for the Bears reuniting Cutler with a coordinator they know he trusts, and so much for the idea that desired coaching candidates will come here with a one-year possibility looming over their heads.

Why would a coordinator come to Chicago knowing it might be for one year when he could go for three or four years to Seattle and run an offense he’s been running in college?

Bates might have liked Cutler and liked working for him, but you’ve got to look out for No. 1 in this business.

There is one way the Bears could lure Bates here if they really wanted him. They could offer him multiple guaranteed years on the contract.

“I am not going to get into contracts,” Smith said when asked about this topic. “This is what I get into, there is an opportunity for you to come here to help us do some good things. We have a good nucleus of players here that they (coordinator candidates) all see.

“I think an offensive guy would want to come here and have a chance to work with a Jay Cutler, and have a chance to mold some of the young receivers and get the offense back on track.”

That may be, but the right guy will want some guarantees if he’s got an opportunity to coach elsewhere.

This could leave the Bears looking at some of the coaches still in the playoffs, like Green Bay quarterbacks coach Tom Clements.

Or it could lead them down the path toward someone Smith knows very well, Mike Martz.

And anyone who saw what Martz did with offenses in Detroit and San Francisco—after he ran the Rams into the ground as head coach—knows where this would lead the Bears.

There’s nothing magical about working with Cutler or coaching in the city of Chicago, regardless of what Smith thinks.

It’s a job, and if the Bears are not too cheap and really want Bates, they need to make certain they do what’s necessary to get him. It’s called spending money.

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Mike Shanahan: Will It Be The Best Of Times? Or The Worst?

Published: January 8, 2010

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As a Redskins fan on Bleacher Report, I felt obligated to write something about Mike Shanahan. I personally think this can be the best opportunity we’ve had since Dan Snyder took control. I could also just be another disaster.

Shanahan obviously has a lot of upside. His two Super Bowl rings are the most obvious thing that comes to mind. It is hard to deny the success Shanahan had with taking a team that was always close, but just couldn’t seal the deal, to the Super Bowl.

He motivated them, and brought in many talented players. Many people would say it wasn’t hard to win two Super Bowls with Elway, but Dan Reeves and Wade Phillips both couldn’t do it.

Out of the eleven offensive starters in Super Bowl XXXII, five were brought in under Shanahan’s watch, including the ultra-productive Terrell Davis. So Shanahan knows how to win. The thing is, without an elite quarterback and running back, he struggles.

The Denver Broncos descended into mediocrity after Elway’s retirement. Shanahan had been spoiled by having a quarterback of that caliber, and didn’t seem to know what to do without one. Unless he gets his hand on an elite quarterback somehow, I’m not sure how he’ll do.

The most important factor for the future will be drafting. With a good staff and talent, any half-decent coach can do fine, so this will be the key. I’ve always been of the opinion that the main problem over the last 10 years has been personal, not coaching nor play on the field. 

The Redskins have never had any sort of depth, which prevents them from playing through injuries. Snyder has to learn his lesson. He was less involved when Gibbs was around, and maybe having another big name coach will cause the same thing to happen.

Shanahan can’t be left to his own devices, however. Shanahan, while skilled at finding and utilizing talent in the first and second round, he has trouble finding late round sleepers, with the exception of running backs.

Having some help, probably in the form of Bruce Allen, to help him will set the ‘Skins on a path toward success. A rebuilding year or two is in order, since he is used to operating with very different personal.

If Snyder keeps his nose out, Shanahan learns how to win without an Elway level quarterback, and he is given a major role—but not complete power—in drafting, the Redskins could be in for—if not a role as an elite team—at least a respectable one.

If one of these happen, this will amount to yet another failed venture by Snyder and Co.

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