Monthly Archives: December 2017

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RENTON, Wash. — Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll doesn’t buy into the idea of big games, or at least he doesn’t want his team thinking that way. Carroll’s constant messaging to his players is to treat each game like a “championship opportunity.” That way their effort, preparation and intensity remain consistent as opposed to ebbing and flowing from week to week.

So you wouldn’t expect Carroll to answer any differently than he did when asked if he could remember a regular-season game meaning as much as Sunday’s NFC West showdown with the division-leading Los Angeles Rams (4:05 p.m. ET, Fox).
Getting pressure on QB Jared Goff was key to forcing turnovers in Seattle’s Week 5 victory at L.A. AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
“Yeah, last week and the week before and every one of them have been the same,” Carroll said. “It’s the same thing. Every one of those gave us a chance to be in first place.”

He’s actually right, sort of.

The Seahawks (8-5) and Rams (9-4) have both gone 2-2 over their past four games, winning and losing in the same weeks. It means that had Seahawks won their games against Atlanta in Week 11 or at Jacksonville last Sunday, they would have pulled even with the Rams, since L.A. lost those weeks as well. The games the Seahawks won during that stretch — at San Francisco and versus Philadelphia — would have done the same thing had Los Angeles lost.

So indeed, the top spot in the division — or at least a tie for the top spot — has been on the line for the past month.

But it might as well be on the line for good Sunday at CenturyLink Field.

A Seahawks victory would give the teams the same record, but that would mean a sweep of the season series for Seattle. The Seahawks would control first place in the division by virtue of the head-to-head tiebreaker. Winning their final two games would then assure the Seahawks of finishing in first place.

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A loss to the Rams, meanwhile, would put Seattle two games behind with two to go. The Seahawks would need to win out and the Rams would need to lose out for Seattle to win the NFC West (by virtue of a division-record tiebreaker). The Seahawks could be favored in Week 16 at Dallas and probably will be favored in their regular-season finale at home against Arizona. But the Rams’ half of that equation is much less likely, given that Los Angeles hosts the 3-10 49ers in Week 17 after playing at Tennessee.

If that scenario doesn’t sound improbable enough, consider these numbers from ESPN’s Football Power Index. As it stands now, FPI gives the Seahawks a 47 percent chance to win the division. That would increase to 69 percent with a win Sunday but would drop all the way down to 3 percent with a loss. Seattle’s chances of making the playoffs — currently at 64 percent, per FPI — would be 83 percent with a win and 27 percent with a loss.

 

Here are three keys for the Seahawks:

Backup LBs stepping up. The Seahawks felt they upgraded their linebacker depth over the offseason by signing veterans Michael Wilhoite and Terence Garvin, and acquiring D.J. Alexander in a trade. They’re about to find out just how good that depth is. Those were the three linebackers who finished Sunday’s loss at Jacksonville when Bobby Wagner (hamstring) and K.J. Wright (concussion) left in the second half. Wright is not expected to play, and Wagner is going to be a game-time decision. Alexander will start for Wright on the weak side. If Wagner can’t play, Wilhoite will move from the strong side to the middle, and Garvin will take over on the strong side. Wagner and Wright are Pro Bowl players and Seattle’s leading tacklers. Wagner is a candidate for defensive player of the year. The Seahawks will be missing quite a bit, in other words — particularly in this matchup given how much the Rams use Todd Gurley as a receiver out of the backfield in addition to a runner. The Seahawks need their backup linebackers to step up in a big way.

More pressure on Jared Goff. Seattle’s pass rush has run hot and cold this season. It was decidedly cold in Week 14 as the Seahawks managed zero sacks and all of one official quarterback hit on Blake Bortles. Needless to say, they’ll need more pressure to have a chance against a Rams offense that ranks second in points per game at 30.5. Two of the four turnovers the Seahawks forced on defense in the first meeting against the Rams were a direct result of pressure on Goff. One was a strip-sack by Frank Clark. The other was an errant throw Earl Thomas picked off after Seattle collapsed the pocket in Goff’s face. More plays like that will help Seattle’s defense make up for what it’s missing in personnel.

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Faster start on offense. The Seahawks are tied for 18th in first-quarter scoring this season with 49 points. By comparison, the Rams lead the league with twice that amount, 98 points. The Seahawks’ 809 yards in the first quarter this season is 30th. You get the point; they’ve been notoriously slow starters on offense. While they’d be better served starting faster in any game, that would be particularly helpful Sunday. The Seahawks can’t count on holding the Rams to only 10 points as they did in the first meeting. That’s not realistic given all the starters Seattle is and could be missing on defense. The Seahawks also can’t continue to count on Russell Wilson rallying them back in the fourth quarter. The Jacksonville loss was a reminder of that as Wilson threw two fourth-quarter touchdown passes but couldn’t come up with a third. The Seahawks haven’t scored a touchdown on their opening drive in 26 consecutive regular-season games. Sunday would be a good time to end that streak.

Prediction

It takes a particularly bad matchup to pick against the Seahawks in a December home game, but that’s what they’re facing. The Rams might be the NFL’s most complete team. They’re also much healthier than the Seahawks. Yes, the Seahawks held them to 10 points in the first meeting, but they needed five takeaways and a dropped pass in the end zone to do it. And that was with a defense that was still mostly intact. Seattle is already without Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor. Not having Wright and possibly Wagner will be lot to overcome against an excellent offense, even at home. Rams 24, Seahawks 21.

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RENTON, Wash. — After All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman went down with a season-ending Achilles injury last month, the Seattle Seahawks repeatedly touted their good fortune to have two former starters in Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane available to step in.

A third could be on the way now that DeShawn Shead has taken a significant step in his return from a knee injury that has kept him on the physically unable to perform list all season. Coach Pete Carroll had been saying for several weeks that Shead was getting close to being able to begin practicing. It finally happened Wednesday.

“It’s been a long haul for him, and anytime you ever heard me talk about him, I would tell you he’s ridiculously on it in terms of his rehab and his effort and his preparation and all of that,” Carroll said. “I’m thrilled for him to come back to the practice now and have a chance. He’s got three weeks to show where he is and all that, and we’ll take a good look at it with our fingers crossed and high hopes that he’ll be able to help us out.”

Carroll’s mention of Shead having three weeks refers to the rules for players returning from PUP. Once they begin practicing, they have 21 days to be activated or else they’re ineligible for the remainder of the season. Technically, a team could activate a player any time during that window. Realistically, though, Shead will need at least two weeks of practice, if not all three, before he has any chance of playing.

So what has already been a long wait for Shead will at least be a little longer. The 29-year-old underwent reconstructive surgery after tearing his ACL in Seattle’s divisional-round loss to Atlanta in January. Then he needed to have a second procedure over the summer to clean up scarring in his knee. That reduced him to a spectator over the first 13 weeks.

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“It was definitely tough, tough to go out there and sit on the sidelines and watch your brothers play the game and not be out there with them and be able to go to battle with them,” Shead said. “It was definitely a grind, but I’m happy to be back.”

Shead rejoins a secondary that has been in flux over the past three months, particularly at cornerback. Lane began the season as the starter on the right side, taking over the job that Shead had held since late in 2015. Lane’s groin injury opened the door for rookie Shaquill Griffin to replace him, and with Lane relegated to a high-priced backup, Seattle (8-4) sent him to Houston only to get him back when a failed physical nixed his inclusion in the Duane Brown trade.

Sherman’s injury in Week 10 against Arizona pushed Lane back into the starting lineup, this time on the left side, and it led the Seahawks to bring back Maxwell to reinforce their cornerback depth. Maxwell was pressed into action when Griffin suffered a concussion two plays into the Atlanta game in Week 11, which also kept him out the following week versus San Francisco. Maxwell outplayed Lane during those two games, so Seattle made him the starter on the left side when Griffin returned Sunday night against Philadelphia.

Maxwell’s performance was a mixed bag. He allowed a 51-yard completion and a 27-yard touchdown, both to Nelson Agholor on scramble plays, and he sealed Seattle’s victory with a fourth-quarter interception.

Carroll confirmed Wednesday that Maxwell will remain the starter over Lane.

“I thought he did a good job last week and had a couple plays that were kind of unusual situations, but he played really well throughout and we really like the way he’s growing with us and getting back in our style and all,” Carroll said. “He’s doing a good job.”

With Griffin playing well on the right side, it won’t be easy for Shead to reclaim his starting spot. He would never expect it to be given the way his career has gone. Shead played college ball at an FCS school — Portland State — and went undrafted in 2012. He spent most of his first two seasons on the Seahawks’ practice squad and didn’t become a starter until late in his fourth season.

He knows he’ll have to prove himself all over again.

“I expect to earn my spot back, I expect to earn my way back onto the field,” Shead said, emphasizing the word. “Nothing was never given to me, so that’s what I know.”

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Shead’s injury came at an interesting time contractually. He had been in the NFL since 2012 but had accrued only three seasons toward free agency, making him a restricted free agent. Buffalo showed interest and the two sides talked numbers, but the Seahawks brought him back on a one-year deal worth as much as $1.2 million.

That represented a raise from the $760,000 he made in 2016. It was a generous amount given the circumstances, with Shead less than two months removed from knee surgery and no certainty about when he’d be back.

“It meant a lot. It meant that they had a lot of trust in me and they know what type of person I was, they knew I was going to attack this process 110 percent and take it as another challenge to come back and be better than I was before,” Shead said. “It means a lot to me that they know who I am and they know that I’m going to come back and come back better than the way I left.

“So for them to trust in me and then give me what they did, I’m not going to let them down.”

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RENTON, Wash. — The Seattle Seahawks (6-4) head to Levi’s Stadium on Sunday looking to extend their winning streak over the San Francisco 49ers (1-9) to eight games, nine if you include the NFC Championship Game four seasons ago.

More importantly, the Seahawks can avoid losing any ground and potentially gain some in the NFC playoff race after falling out of the No. 6 spot with their loss to Atlanta on Monday night.

Here’s a closer look at the game from Seattle’s perspective, starting with one of the key matchups:

Seattle’s run defense vs. Carlos Hyde

It made for an unexpected early-season storyline when Seattle was gashed for a pair of long runs in consecutive weeks. Carlos Hyde went for 61 yards in Seattle’s win over the 49ers in Week 2, then DeMarco Murray helped Tennessee pull away from the Seahawks when he ripped off a 75-yard touchdown run the following week.

“That wasn’t like us,” defensive end Frank Clark said this week.
When Carlos Hyde broke loose for a 61-yard gain against Seattle in Week 2, it was uncharacteristic of the Seattle defense. Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images
Indeed it hadn’t been. From 2014-16, the Seahawks defense allowed 3.4, 3.6 and 3.4 yards per carry, finishing those respective seasons ranked second, fourth and first in that category. But largely because of those two long runs, Seattle ranked dead last through three games at 5.3 YPC allowed.

That seems like a long time ago based on how Seattle’s defense has gotten back on track heading into the rematch with San Francisco. Since Week 4, the Seahawks have allowed 80 rushing yards per game and 3.2 per carry. According to ESPN charting, those averages rank third and second in the NFL in that span, respectively.

Since Hyde (124) and Murray (115) topped 100 yards against Seattle, Lamar Miller’s 54 yards in Week 8 are the most the Seahawks have allowed to a running back. Seattle’s run defense turned in a masterful performance in Week 10 vs. Arizona, holding Adrian Peterson to 29 yards on 21 carries. The Cardinals managed 34 as a team, the fewest vs. Seattle this season.

“We’ve been a little more disciplined, and I think we’re playing a little more gap-sound,” middle linebacker Bobby Wagner said of the difference since Seattle’s early-season struggles.

Coach Pete Carroll said the same thing. “It starts with the discipline of the scheme,” he said. “If you’re jumping around scheme-wise, you’re lucking out. So we’ve been committed for a long time to be really consistent there and it’s generally worked out. That’s why it’s so hard for us to stomach the thought that we gave up four or five plays a game that are explosive run plays or whatever. We’ve just been really committed to it, and for the most part, it’s worked out.”

The Seahawks will likely have an important part of their run defense back Sunday with defensive tackle Jarran Reed expected to play after missing most of the last two games with a hamstring injury.

By the numbers

199. Passing yards that Russell Wilson needs to become the fourth quarterback in NFL history to throw for at least 3,000 yards in each of his first six seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The three QBs who have accomplished that feat are Peyton Manning, Cam Newton and Andy Dalton. Wilson is averaging 280 passing yards per game this season, third-most in the league, so there’s a good chance he joins that group Sunday.

133.5. Rushing yards per game that San Francisco’s defense has allowed this season, which is the worst average in the NFL. Seattle’s inability to mount a consistent rushing attack has been well covered here. If the Seahawks can’t get things going Sunday against a poor run defense and with Luke Joeckel back at left guard, when will they?

4. Consecutive games in which the 49ers have committed at least two turnovers. It’s the first time they’ve done that since 2009, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The current streak coincides with C.J. Beathard taking over as the 49ers’ starting quarterback. In those four games, he’s thrown three touchdowns to four interceptions and has lost two fumbles. He’ll remain the starter Sunday over Jimmy Garoppolo. Winning the turnover battle is a fairly reliable formula for victory for the Seahawks. Since Carroll took over in 2010, they’re 48-10 — including 4-0 this season — when they take the ball away more times than they turn it over.

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Injury outlook: Joeckel will be back after missing the last five games while recovering from knee surgery. Seattle will again be without strong safety Kam Chancellor (neck) along with cornerback Shaquill Griffin (concussion) and right guard Oday Aboushi (shoulder). Byron Maxwell will start at right cornerback for Griffin after replacing him two plays into Monday night’s game. Seattle’s coaches like what they’ve seen from Maxwell since he was brought back last week. Carroll wouldn’t reveal if Ethan Pocic or Mark Glowinski will start at right guard, but the guess here is it’ll be Pocic. Mike Davis (groin) is doubtful, so Seattle’s available tailbacks will be Thomas Rawls, Eddie Lacy and J.D. McKissic. Asked this week what Rawls needs to do Sunday, offensive line coach Tom Cable said: “Don’t try so damn hard.”

Getting a grip: The Sunday forecast for Santa Clara calls for an 85 percent chance of rain at kickoff, according to Weather.com. That may explain why Wilson was seen wearing a glove on each hand during the early portion of Friday’s practice, which was open to the media. Wilson has occasionally practiced in gloves and he wore one on his left, non-throwing hand during a rainy divisional-round playoff game vs. New Orleans in January 2014, but he’s never worn one on his throwing hand in an NFL game.

Prediction: The 49ers are catching the Seahawks in a potentially vulnerable state, with injuries piling up in their secondary and elsewhere. Also working against the Seahawks is they’re playing on the road on a short week against a team coming off its bye. Those factors should only keep the game closer than it otherwise would be. The Seahawks may not be as dominant as they were with all the star power they’re missing, but they still have a significant enough talent edge over San Francisco that it’s hard to imagine them losing this game — especially with their margin for error in the NFC playoff race already reduced. Seahawks 24, 49ers 18.

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No player in the NFL has had a more stunning fantasy rise and fall this year than Kansas City Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt.

If you own him, he is probably the main reason your team is in the fantasy playoffs. And he is probably now the main reason why you lack any confidence you’ll advance very far.

After averaging 22.7 fantasy points per game in ESPN leagues during his first seven games, the dynamic rookie runner/receiver has averaged just 8.6 over the past four — including a season-low 3.6 last week against a shaky Buffalo Bills run defense.

ESPN Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher would love to offer some hope, but he said there is “nothing tangible” that he can point to regarding Hunt, as the Chiefs’ entire offense has deteriorated while losing five of the past six games.
Somewhere in this gang of Bills is Kareem Hunt, who has had no room to operate lately after a strong start to the season. Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire
“I just fail to believe they’re this bad, because we’ve seen when things were rolling that they’re pretty good,” Teicher said. “But I can’t tell you if it’s gonna change now or ever.”

Teicher stressed that he thinks Hunt is probably the last person to blame — “not that that helps for fantasy purposes.”

Defenses have come to realize that Hunt is the one player they need to stop, and he has been getting swallowed up at the line of scrimmage. As Teicher pointed out, Hunt averaged 5.72 yards before first contact in his first three games (by far the best in the NFL). Since Week 5, he is averaging 1.43 yards before first contact (40th among running backs). And the average keeps dropping.

“This isn’t on him. It’s not like he’s hit a rookie wall or anything,” Teicher said. “I mean, the poor guy is getting swamped as soon as he gets the ball. The Chiefs aren’t making teams back off, and they’re not blocking very well. It’s just been a disaster.”

And, of course, quarterback Alex Smith’s play has dropped off substantially. He has looked less comfortable in the pocket, rushing more throws and missing more receivers while going from the subject of early-season MVP talk to questions about whether he could possibly be replaced by rookie backup Patrick Mahomes II at some point.

LET JOSH GORDON RIP?

It sure sounds like Hue Jackson wouldn’t hesitate to throw receiver Josh Gordon into his fantasy lineup this week. The Cleveland Browns head coach said he has “big plans” for Gordon even though the receiver hasn’t played a game in three years.

When asked whether Gordon will start in his first game back from multiple suspensions, Jackson said, “Heck, yeah! … Are you kidding me? … You got to play your best players, right?”

And when asked if there will be any kind of pitch count, Jackson said, “Let her rip. Pitch count? With this guy? Nooo.”

ESPN Browns reporter Pat McManamon preached some caution, saying it “might be wise” to wait at least a week to see how Gordon does before inserting him in a starting fantasy lineup. But McManamon added, “If he’s himself, he’s one of the best in the league.”

Obviously, caution seems like the right approach. Then again, Gordon led the NFL with 1,646 receiving yards in 2013, the last time he played as many as 14 games in a season.

“Josh Gordon is 6-4, 227 pounds,” Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer said. “I haven’t played with anyone like him.”

RODGERS RETURNING?

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is on track to practice on Saturday for the first time since he had shoulder surgery in October. He is eligible to play again for the first time in Week 15 if his recovery keeps going smoothly.

That’s still a big “if,” though — especially since the Packers (5-6) will need to stay in playoff contention to make his return worthwhile. But longtime teammate Clay Matthews raves about Rodgers’ condition and said this week, “I think we probably should have kept him off IR.”

In the meantime, ESPN Packers reporter Rob Demovsky also wrote this week about how the Packers don’t know which version of interim QB Brett Hundley will show up from week to week. And Green Bay’s offense could run (and pass) through rising rookie running back Jamaal Williams.

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WORTH A CLICK:

Third-year receiver Seth Roberts should play a bigger role for the Oakland Raiders on Sunday without starters Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper. It will give Roberts a chance to make up for his struggles in Mexico City two weeks ago. But ESPN Raiders reporter Paul Gutierrez also believes that tight end Jared Cook could be the biggest benefactor of any Oakland pass catcher.

Receiver Jamison Crowder spoiled the best stretch of his career with an ugly series of miscues on Thursday night. But ESPN Washington Redskins reporter John Keim pointed out that there are still reasons to have faith in Crowder’s resurgence, from his improved health to Washington’s heavier use of three-receiver sets, which have allowed him to play more in the slot.

ESPN Tennessee Titans reporter Cameron Wolfe writes that there won’t be a changing of the guard in the Titans’ backfield as the team continues to insist it has “two starters” at running back. But Wolfe suggested earlier this week that it’s time for Tennessee to lean more on the younger Derrick Henry, who has been outperforming veteran DeMarco Murray in recent weeks.

One more from Wolfe: What’s behind quarterback Marcus Mariota’s puzzling third-year slump?

Rookie running back Joe Mixon had his long-awaited breakout performance with 114 rushing yards and 51 receiving yards last week. And as ESPN Cincinnati Bengals reporter Katherine Terrell wrote, Mixon vowed to buy dinner for his offensive linemen, whom he credited for the performance after they spent time talking together before the game.

Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy is likely to play Sunday despite knee soreness, according to coach Sean McDermott. But as ESPN Bills reporter Mike Rodak wrote, McCoy is searching for consistency in a roller-coaster season.

Another week, another potential leading man in the Seattle Seahawks backfield. Mike Davis is expected to return from a groin injury, challenging Eddie Lacy and J.D. McKissic for playing time, while Thomas Rawls falls even further down the depth chart.

ESPN New England Patriots reporter Mike Reiss said their run game never looked better than it did last Sunday against the Miami Dolphins — with Dion Lewis leading the way. As Reiss wrote, Lewis’ snaps have jumped from 12.8 per game through the first five games of the season to 26.6 per game over the past six.

How New Orleans Saints breakout rookie star Alvin Kamara goes into “Matrix mode” to make defenders miss by going around them, through them — and sometimes over them.

Rookie running back Leonard Fournette believes the Jacksonville Jaguars run game has just hit a normal lull in recent weeks that can possibly improve with the return of right tackle Jermey Parnell.

ESPN Detroit Lions reporter Michael Rothstein suggests finding another option instead of Lions RB Ameer Abdullah this week. Abdullah is questionable with a neck injury, and his offensive line is also banged up. In other words, it doesn’t look like Detroit will snap its historic drought of four years without a 100-yard rusher.

Receiver Keenan Allen ignites the Los Angeles Chargers’ offense from the slot.

San Francisco 49ers GM John Lynch says Carlos Hyde has “answered some questions” as free agency nears.

Film review: Chicago Bears rookie QB Mitchell Trubisky’s technique is only part of problem.

Houston Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins only gets better as the game goes on.