Monday, January 07, 2013

The Morning After - Wildcard Weekend 2012

Every Monday of the playoffs, we will spend a few moments on the events of the weekend - sometimes from a Dallas Cowboys perspective - as we size up what the teams in the post-season are telling us about how to get there and to find success in January and ultimately, the first weekend of February.

This weekend, from a prediction standpoint, was actually a wildcard weekend that went exactly as I expected.  I had the Texans, Packers, Ravens, and Seahawks advancing, but surely, some of the details were difficult to anticipate and it all sets up a fantastic divisional round that offers some heavyweight battles that should make next weekend memorable.

In particular, the final game of yesterday was clearly the best game of the four.  Washington hosted Seattle in a tight matchup that offered talking points on both sides.

For Seattle, it seemed to demonstrate that although conventional wisdom indicates that they are a team that relies on their home stadium for their success (a premise that although ridiculous is difficult to completely eliminate based on performance) is a nasty, physically-tough team that is ready for a street fight anywhere.

How Seattle managed to sneak under the radar of the NFL these last few years is partly because they do not seem to care what anyone else thinks when it comes to personnel.  And, if you follow the NFL for a while, you see that the teams that color within the lines get preferential treatment, while those that do their own work and ignore what the outside says are on their own.

And when I say that, I am talking about the way they have acquired players since Pete Carroll was brought in 36 months ago (and since Carroll named his own GM, John Schneider - a Ted Thompson disciple from Green Bay.  If you love the draft, it is rather easy to name the team that has produced the most dismay on draft day from the draft-experts in the studios for the networks.  Seattle has constantly been the team that has not used Kiper, McShay, Mayock, or anyone else to cross-check their draft pick homework.

In 2010, you may recall all of the discussion about Seattle taking Earl Thomas over Taylor Mays, including Mays himself blaming his college coach at USC for sabotaging his draft stock.  Instead, Carroll took Thomas from Texas and pretty much knocked that pick out of the park and has an elite safety now who plays center field as well as pretty much anyone.  Meanwhile, Mays, has had a hard time making it onto the field as a pro.

That 2010 draft brought Seattle Thomas - Free Safety, Russell Okung - Starting LT, Kam Chancellor (with pick #133!) - Strong Safety, Golden Tate - slot receiver, and Anthony McCoy - 2nd tight end.

Then, the next year, the 2011 draft did more of the same.  They were laughed at for taking James Carpenter from Alabama in the 1st Round - because the experts did not have a 1st round grade on him. Carpenter is still a project and has spent most of his 2 years hurt as he blew out his ACL in 2011 and remains a question.  But, the 2011 draft also gave them John Moffitt, their starting Right Guard for most of the season, KJ Wright - Startling OLB, Kris Durham, and Richard Sherman (Pick 154!) who might be one of the fiercest cornerbacks in the game right now.

So, that is 8 starters from yesterday in just the 2010 and 2011 draft.

But, then comes 2012.  Could they do it again?

In the 1st Round they took a pass rusher in Bruce Irvin who nobody thought was worth the gamble that high due to many off-field and on-field question marks.  The ridicule after this pick also cited the Carpenter pick and the discussion on TV was that Seattle is reckless in their draft room.  But, they trusted their homework and took Irvin who has returned their faith with a bunch of sacks - more than any other rookie.  Then, in the 2nd round, they took Bobby Wagner from Utah State to patrol the middle.  In the 3rd Round, it was an undersized QB in Russell Wilson from Wisconsin who surely wouldn't start for them all season, right?  Wrong again, know-it-alls.

There are other players from the 2012 draft that are helping, too, as rookies, but maybe my favorite story is their 7th round pick, a guy named JR Sweezy.  He played DT at NC State one year ago, and the Seahawks drafted him in the 7th round because they wanted to convert him to a guard.

And you know who started at RG for them yesterday?  That's right - their 7th round Defensive Tackle. Meanwhile, their starting RT was off the Green Bay practice squad in 2010, and their starting LG was the other McQuistan brother who is on his 4th team since 2006.

So, they have a physically punishing football team and most of their players have been acquired since 2010 when Carroll and Schneider were brought on board.

They have built their entire secondary - you know, the one people are calling the best in football - since then, along with the entire OL that Marshawn Lynch runs behind save for the center, Max Unger who is a hold-over from the 2009 draft.

They have sprinkled in players who other teams did not value that highly, with a few free agent purchases, and low-and-behold, they appear to have a young, promising team for 2012 and beyond.

And the best part?  It doesn't seem that they cared what anyone thought about their picks.  They did their own work, did not compare notes, did not care about favorable reviews, and believed in their system.

It might not be enough to win the Super Bowl this year, but it is interesting to see a door-mat figure out how to figure it out.

Meanwhile, the Redskins seem to have taken a decidedly different route to the same game yesterday.  They appear to have put all of their eggs in the basket of getting a potentially generational talent to their franchise and that is why the moment in the game where Robert Griffin's knee buckled caused most football fans to gasp in horror.

Seldom has a team had so much invested in one player who had also delivered so much already that the investment seemed proper.  But, as Cowboys fans know, Griffin has been limp-jogging for most of the last month and despite looking as if he planned on willing his team all of the way to a trophy, reality caught up yesterday at a rather innocuous moment in the contest.

Griffin's knee buckled and all you could consider were the times where a franchise had a prodigy-level talent who was dealing with a health issue that might jeopardize everything and they either pulled the plug completely - like the same city's baseball team did with Stephen Strasburg just this year - or took extreme caution at every turn - like the Dallas Mavericks' coach Don Nelson insisted on back in 2003 when Dirk Nowitzki's knee was the concern.

But, this one was tricky.  There were doctor's reports and a player's wishes to sort through.  There was the cliche' about this being "the once-in-a-lifetime chance" with a divisional title and a home playoff game to consider.  There was the painted dirt that the Redskins call a playing surface this late in the year.  And there was a roster that only boasted another rookie QB.

Mike Shanahan had built his entire scheme around this singular talent, so he trusted his eyes and the words of his QB and went for it.  And it failed.  And now, people want answers for how he could be so reckless with his player at just the wrong time.

Shanahan said he trusted his gut and his QB's wishes.  They were only in that spot because RG3 got them there, so you can understand the position.  It is easy to sit here and say that this is too reckless in this situation, but at the core of all of this is that this sport is based on the warrior mentality this time of year to play through injuries and drag your body out there for your team.

It didn't work this time, and who knows now what this does to Griffin's long term potential, but you can now see how complex this issue is.  The medical people said he passed the tests, but then hedge their bets by saying they were still unsure or nervous about the outcome.  That hardly seems definitive except in that they were clearly covering their own rear ends.

I hope that one of the most exciting players to arrive in the NFL recovers well and that we get to see his career as it was promised, but, I don't feel 2nd-guessing the Redskins decision making process on this particular situation is anything more than outcome-based logic.  Because he got hurt, it looks like a bad decision.  But, since time travel is not available to any of us, one has a hard time fairly saying that the Redskins should have ignored their QB's wishes.  It was only because of his courage last week that they were hosting this game to begin with.

Great stuff in Washington in a game that eliminates the entire NFC East from the playoffs.  And now, we try to come to grips with there being just 7 games left in the season.

1 comment:

The Phat Controller said...

Bob - great article. I have been head-scratching over Seattle's draft picks for the last couple of years but they seem to be proving the experts wrong.

I watch (one I get over their uniforms) them thanks to the Sunday Ticket and really like their style of football and admire their players.

Their passing game is interesting because the receivers aren't prototypical but they play hard and make enough plays to keep defenses honest.

You focused on the players, and rightly so, but I think hiring Tom Cable as the offensive line coach was a huge plus-up for them. He's the best there is.