Friday, January 13, 2006

Was it Over When the Germans Bombed Pearl Harbor?

In August of 1990, during the buildup to Operation Desert Storm under Bush 41, the New York Times ran a front-page article in a Sunday edition describing the power of the Iraqi military. The gist of the piece was that the Iraqis had a superb military, especially its elite Republican Guard; it was the fifth most-powerful military in the world. The Times warned that President Bush was underestimating his enemy and that victory would not come easily, especially in an unfamiliar environment like the desert. And the Times warned that, unlike the US, the Iraqi military was recently battle tested in its war with Iran. The Times was stating what every major main stream publication was stating at the time.

What does this have to do with this weekend’s playoff game? Well, every main stream publication is saying that the Seahawks are a superb team that is battle tested and they cannot be beaten by another NFC team in the unfamiliar territory of Seattle. Clearly, the New York Times overestimated the battle test that the Iranians presented to the Iraqis. And every mainstream media source is overestimating the battles that the Seahawks have surmounted.

Here’s what everyone says about the Seahawks: They have always had a potent offense and have added an excellent defense this year. Shaun Alexander is the best running back in the NFL and deserved his MVP trophy. Hasselbeck has matured immensely in just one season and now pays attention when coach Holmgren talks to him. Holmgren is focused on activity on the field now that he has given up the general manager’s job. They cannot lose on their home turf; rainy Seattle is an unfamiliar environment for visiting teams. Oh, and their loss to the Redskins this year was their wake up call, and they are a different team since then and have won eleven in a row (er, their season-ending loss to the Packers is a little inconvenient to the media story line of “Eleven in a Row,” so ignore that one).

Stomping on the Weak
Here are the facts: Like the Iraqis who battled a pushover military like Iran’s, the Seahawks played the easiest schedule in the NFL this year. Their opponents’ average winning percentage was only 0.421, which was 32nd out of 32 NFL teams, but averages only tell part of the story. When the Seahawks played good teams they were very average. When they played bad ones, they were the US Marines stomping on the Republican Guard.

The Seahawks played six games against teams in their division, which was the worst division in football. It is the only division in the NFL that had three teams with a double-digit number of losses. Their division opponents had a combined record of 15 – 33.

But wait, there’s more, as they say on late-night infomercials. The Seahawks got to play two more powerhouses this year in the Titans and Texans. Add the Texans and Titans 6 – 26 record to Seattle’s division opponents’ record and you find that the Seahawks played half of their schedule—EIGHT games—against teams with a combined record of 21 – 59. That, ladies and gentlemen, is a 0.263 winning percentage. Pathetic.

DID YOU GET THAT? Playing against teams with a combined twenty-one wins and fifty-nine losses is like the University of Texas playing Princeton. If the Seahawks didn’t win ALL of those games, they wouldn’t belong in the NFL. Toss those wins out and they are 5 -3. Oh, did I mention that one of the three losses was to the Redskins? Oh, and did I mention that one of the wins was against the Colts’ second- and third-stringers at the end of the season?

Neither the Colts nor the Seahawks had any reason to keep their starters on the field for that game, but the Seahawks did. I guess coach Holmgren was trying to prove that his team could beat a bunch of guys who were wearing the uniform worn by a winning team because beating the guys in the Colts uniforms that day did not prove anything else. Take away the Colts win and they are just about a 0.500 team.

The media is correct about one thing: Shaun Alexander is the key to their offense. So let’s see how the MVP played this year. For the season, the MVP had an amazing twenty-eight touchdowns and 1880 yards. Against the eight pushovers, he was Superman. Against those eight, he earned 1133 of his yards and nineteen of his touchdowns. Let’s add the monster game he had against the Colts’ backups just for fun. Including the Colts game, Alexander got 1272 yards and twenty-two touchdowns. So, in the nine games against the weak, Alexander averaged 141.33 yards and 2.4 TDs per game.

But that only makes him Clark Kent against good teams. In the seven games against good teams, Alexander averaged 86.86 yards and 0.857 TDs per game. That is a huge difference. Oh, yeah; against the Redskins he only got 98 yards and one touchdown and that was only after Sean Taylor left the game with an injury in the second half. In the first half of the Redskins game, the Seahawks total production on offense was 75 yards and three points.

I’m not reaching here folks. There is a clear dichotomy in the Seahawks schedule and it tells the whole story. If you toss out their win against the Colts and their loss against the Packers at the end of the year when the number-one seeds were locked up, the Seahawks had a 12 – 2 record this year. But, if you only look at their record against winning teams in those fourteen games, the Seahawks were 2 – 2. Both wins—against the Cowboys and Giants in Seattle—were decided by three-points.

Everyone in New Jersey knows why the Giants lost their game to the Seahawks (remember Shockey’s premature celebration? Click for video), but few remember that it took a last-second miracle for the Seahawks to beat the Cowboys. With less than a minute to play, Seattle tied the score at 10-10 on a Hasselbeck TD pass. Then, with five seconds left, Drew Bledsoe threw an interception and Seattle kicked a 50 yard field goal. Oh, and against playoff teams in those fourteen games, their record is 1 – 2 this year with their sole win coming against the 0 for 3 New Jersey Feelys.

It is an old adage that defense, the running game, and special teams win championships. So how did Seattle’s juggernaut offense manage to do against top-ten defenses? The team was 3 – 3 against top-ten defenses. Those three wins are made up of the win against the Cowboys and two wins against the Cardinals, which only had a top-ten defense because they were so bad that teams didn’t have to throw the football against them. Take away the Cardinals wins and the Green Bay loss and they were 1 – 2 against top-ten Ds. The Skins have a top-ten defense.

Hasselbeck had the best QB rating in the NFC at 98.2 with 24 TDs and only 9 INTs. But, in six games against top-ten defenses, Hasselbeck had a QB rating of 82.34 with 5 TDS and 4 INTs. So, he inflated his statistics against the weak in the schedule and was very average against the average to good. He averaged a 108.33 QB rating against the bottom-22 defenses with 1.9 TDs and 0.5 INTs per game, but against top-ten defenses he averaged 0.833 TDS and 0.67 INTs per game.

So, the Seahawks are an average team, at best, when they play good teams, and they are a bully when they play bad ones. It is lucky for them that they only played four games against teams with a winning record this year (not counting the second-string Colts who were 1-1).

The quotes from the players in Seattle this week generally allude to this: They think they are a much better team since they lost to the Redskins in October and they think the Redskins are the same team, maybe worse. They think the gaudy numbers they put up in eight games while beating up on teams with a 0.263 winning percentage, or the second-string colts, are legitimate. They think their gift-wrapped wins over the Cowboys and Giants proved they could beat teams with winning records. They are delusional.

The Redskins are Too Beat Up?
There is a theory that the Redskins are too beat up to stay with the Seahawks. For some reason the theorists have ignored that the Seahawks lost three of their four starters in their secondary for significant amounts of time over the last five games. Also, the Redskins get Shawn Springs back this week after he missed last week’s playoff game. With the health of Salave’a, Arrington, and Taylor, who all missed significant amounts of time in the win over Seattle in October, and with Griffin, Springs and Daniels back to health, the Skins are not as banged up as everyone believes. And, Portis would have played more in the second half against the Bucs if the Skins needed him.

The Skins’ Offense is Dead?
The offense that put up 101 points on its three NFC East opponents within the past four weeks is dead? Why? Because it took a fourteen-point lead in the first quarter against the best defense in the NFL and decided to play it conservatively the rest of the way? Correct me if I’m wrong. They won the game, didn’t they? So…it worked…right?

The Seahawks are on a Roll?
Sure, they beat up bad teams eleven straight times since the Redskins beat them (don’t look at the Green bay loss behind the curtain). But, the Redskins have now played what are essentially six straight playoff games and won them all including two wins against teams that were in the playoffs and another against a team that wasn’t eliminated until 7:30 pm on the last day of the season. Aren’t the Redskins on a roll?

The Seahawks are Great at Home?
There is this theory that the Seahawks cannot lose at home because of crowd noise and weather and the Hawks just play better there. If all one looked at was the winning record, who could argue? They were 8 – 0 at home. But, then when you dig a little deeper you realize that damn quality-of-opponent thing pops up again. The only good teams they played at home were the Cowboys and the Giants and both of those teams handed the game to the Seahawks.

There is also the loud/unfamiliar/rain-soaked territory argument. Well, if it’s unfamiliar to one of the two quarterbacks, that quarterback would be Hasselbeck. Matt Hasselbeck has a 103 rating on the road, but a 93.9 rating at home. Mark Brunell took the University of Washington Huskies to four bowl games in his four years in Washington and won the National Championship in 1991. Shawn Springs and Philip Daniels, two important starters on the Skins’ top-ten defense, began their careers in Seattle and did very well there. And, loud? You don’t think it was loud in Tampa Bay last week?

9.5 points?
Look, the Seahawks have an excellent record, but they didn’t earn it. They are 1 - 2 against playoff caliber teams this year and, more than any other team, they inflated their statistics against the bad teams. They only played four games against teams with a winning record and the bad-record teams they played were truly the weakest in the league. The only rationale for a 9.5 point spread in this game is Paul Allen must have put half of his $21-billion net worth on the Hawks and moved the needle.

It’s the Coaching Stupid
This game is a toss up, and only because the Skins had to fly 3000 miles to get there. If they played in DC, the Skins win. If their starters stay in the game, the Skins win. The bottom line is, Holmgren and his crew are going to have to out-coach Gibbs and Williams to win, and I wouldn’t bet on that. Gibbs is 17 - 5 in the playoffs; Holmgren is 9 - 8. There also is the little matter that Gibbs’ team has improved its performance every time it got a second bite at the apple this year.

This reminds me of 1990 when everyone loved Buddy Ryan as coach of the Eagles despite the fact that he couldn’t win a playoff game. Gibbs beat Ryan almost all the time in the regular season. Well, the Redskins went to Philadelphia to play the Eagles in the playoffs for the first time in Gibbs’ tenure as coach of the Skins. The Eagles were favored by about a touchdown. Everyone thought the Eagles would win. When the Skins won 20 – 6, the Eagles promptly fired Buddy Ryan.

Ryan couldn’t beat Gibbs and Ryan was removed; Hussein’s military was 0 for 2 against US forces and Hussein was removed; and Gibbs has never lost to a Holmgren-coached team. Holmgren has never won a playoff game with the Seahawks; he is 0 for 3. He’d better coach the game of his life or find a spider hole to hide in until minicamp.


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