Happy Opening Day!
The first game day of the NFL's 2014 season has dawned sunny in Seattle. Supposed to be about 75 degrees and perfectly clear at the 5:30 kickoff today as the Seahawks begin defense of their Super Bowl championship against the Green Bay Packers at CenturyLink Field.
First, some blog housekeeping: If you missed the posts last night, the Seahawks made a few roster moves yesterday. They placed backup guard-center Lemuel Jeanpierre on the season-ending injured-reserve list with an unspecified neck injury that must be bad, and they re-signed wide receiver Phil Bates, cut on Monday, to the active roster. Seattle also signed three players to its practice squad: guard David Arkin, linebacker Allen Bradford (whom Carroll recruited to USC and has been in past Seahawks training camps) and guard Drew Nowak. The Seahawks terminated the practice-squad contracts (a minimum of $6,300 per week) of wide receiver Chris Matthews, cornerback Terrance Parks and guard Nate Isles.
Yes, that's eight wide receivers on the active roster. I have a reason that is not nearly as earth-shaking as the theory that got floated on here last night: My sense is the Seahawks grabbed Bates after he cleared league waivers to a free-agent contract before any other team did -- and for bookkeeping and financial reasons. They didn't sign back, say, 10-year veteran tackle Eric Winston for depth on the offensive line -- not yet -- because the Seahawks would have guarantee contracts for such vested veterans (four or more seasons of service time) for the entire season if they are on the active roster for the first regular-season game. That's per the league's collective bargaining agreement in which the union wanted to ensure it took care of veteran players as much as they could financially if they get cut later in the season. It's possible -- plausible -- that one of the eight wide receivers will go after Thursday's game in exchange for a veteran offensive or defensive linemen, whose contract the Seahawks then would not have to guarantee for the entire season.
If the Seahawks were to cut Bates after tonight's game, they could assume he would clear waivers again as he did this week. They could then add him to their practice squad and have both Bryan Walters and Bates under contractual control, which is what I think been their intent all along.
--As for that little matter of a real game, Seattle's first ever as a defending Super Bowl champion, tonight, here are my three keys for the Seahawks:
1. Britt shows grit: The Seahawks are starting rookie second-round pick Justin Britt at right tackle. And every Cheesehead worth his foam knows it. Expect the Packers to send offseason free-agent prize DE Julius Peppers at Britt early, late and often, and for defensive coordinator Dom Capers to try to disguise where LB Clay Matthews is coming from while targeting Britt. The Seahawks wouldn’t have used their second-highest draft choice on Britt if they didn’t think he was up to giving QB Russell Wilson the time to throw on his front side.
2. Unleash the Beast: The Seahawks spent August showing off the new health and speed of WR Percy Harvin in what has the potential to be a more explosive offense. But the best way for Seattle to slow down Green Bay’s pass rush aiming for Britt is to run Marshawn Lynch right at the Packers. An even better reason for offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell to dial up No. 24: The Packers may use five linebackers and only two defensive linemen at times.
3. Bring the noise: In more ways than one. Green Bay has a goal to run up to 75 plays a game this season, 10 more than last year. But there are far easier things to do in the NFL than communicate effectively enough to consistently run a no-huddle offense inside the Seahawks’ ear-splitting house. Plus, the Packers have rookie Corey Linsley starting at center in his first pro game. Better believe Brandon Mebane, Tony McDaniel, Bobby Wagner and the middle of Seattle’s defense are going to be coming at Linsley. At least Bruce Irvin is praying for him.
I think Britt has a tough night dealing with Peppers and Matthews and all the blitzes Capers is going to have for him off the edge, to the point tight ends Zach Miller and Luke Willson will stay in more to block instead of being pass targets and perhaps forcing Seattle into more two-tight end formations than offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell prefers. That would keep the Seahawks' starting offense from the video-game like success -- 11 scores in 13 possessions -- that it had during the preseason. But I also see Lynch running right at that smaller, faster Packers defense to control field position and much of the game.
I don't think the rookie center for the Packers, Corey Linsley, is going to be much of an issue. Green Bay can compensate inside with guard double-teams and even halfback or fullback blocking to help Linsley. The bigger issue for the Pack is I can't see it being able to go no-huddle, at least not at much of a fast pace, in what will be NFC title game-caliber noise tonight inside CenturyLink Field.
I'm saying 27-17 Seahawks, with a touchdown pass from Russell Wilson to pull away from a field-goal game late.
--Do not under any of the many circumstances going on tonight forget that we'll have our News Tribune game chat churning live from the press box beginning at about 4:30 p.m. PT or so. Join in the real-time conversation on the pregame and game with thousands of Seahawks fans around the world.
--Today in The News Tribune my game-advance story leads with Pete Carroll saying this isn't such a wowing stage for him and his players -- because he's been preparing them for it since he arrived in Seattle in January 2010.
He told me for that story that Seattle is his last coaching stop, and that he feels he has the energy to coach 10 more years. That would make him 72 -- a modern, chic Marv Levy.
--Columnist Dave Boling went to the stadium yesterday for some league events with commissioner Roger Goodell and other NFL executives. What he found is the sense that the Seahawks are becoming something of America's Team -- at least far closer to that than this remote, overlooked league outpost in the upper-left corner of the league map has ever been.
--One of my stories for today's special Seahawks season preview section in the newspaper was on Richard Sherman wanting you to know something. As usual: Nothing's changed in the Seahawks' "Legion of Boom" secondary, new NFL emphasis on illegal defensive contact be damned.
--The paper also has in it a story I wrote detailing what I see is a noticeable difference between Carroll now and when I covered his first Seahawks months in 2010. He is far more a delegating CEO now on the field, and he told me that is because he was trying to installing a message and attitude then, and that his players have internalized that message now to the point of self-policing the team. Those that didn't internalize "always compete" aren't Seahawks any more.
That story also details the origins of Carroll's outside-the-box motivation of his players, a way he says he didn't fully develop until he spent 2000 out of football -- after the Patriots fired him as head coach and before the USC hired him. In that year he internalized the teachings of legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, and in those readings he had an a-ha! moment that turned him into a national championship-winning coach at USC and Super Bowl-winning one with the Seahawks. I'd link the story but I can't readily find it online this morning.
--ESPN.com's Terry Blount sees the same key matchups tonight that I do.
--Here is The New York Times looking at the financial health of the Seahawks, and as you can imagine coming off their first Super Bowl championship team president Peter McLoughlin says "things are very good right now." The article notes "a team-record 99.6 percent of season-ticket holders renewed their plans even though ticket prices increased by an average of 12 percent. An additional 1,200 seats previously sold as single-game tickets were converted to season tickets and scooped up."
--The Seattle Times got coordinator Dan Quinn to break down a "Defense 101" lesson for the Seahawks' schemes.
--USA Today explores a topic no one ever has asked the Seahawks about yet since they won the Super Bowl(!).
--Great lead and story here from our ol' friend Todd Dybas on Washington's WR DeSean Jackson. See, as good as this story is, Todd doesn't miss us at all(!)
Enjoy your pregame day.