Quote of the week

“To be a great champion you must believe you are the best. If you're not, pretend you are.” – Muhammad Ali

Sunday, January 11, 2015

#Thoughts: Are the Seattle Seahawks a dynasty?

It was a pleasure to watch the NFL playoffs last night and see my favourite team, the Carolina Panthers, play the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Divisional Round. Of course, I initially supported the Panthers only because of Cam Newton, but they are my team now and I have grown to love them.

Cam Newton...
Close, but no cigar
The Panthers played a great game against the champion Seahawks and, if it wasn’t for a few moments here and there, could, very conceivably, have won the game.

The Seahawks, though, are just a whirlwind; they are able to stay in and ultimately win any game because of their awesome defence. Last night they were simply a sight to behold and safety Kam Chancellor, in particular, played like a man possessed. He was Superman all night.

Seattle scored off a turnover; they struck off two improbable series engineered by the magical Russell Wilson and sealed it with an interception. That is Seahawks football – opportunistic, methodical, dynamic and efficient with loads of mental toughness.

It is a formula the Panthers just weren’t able to cope with over a full four quarters.

After a nervous start Newton and the Panthers offence grew into the game. As things wore on they were able to build drives and move the chains. The running game was strong and running back Jonathan Stewart was immense against the league’s best defence. The offensive line also did splendid job of opening lanes for the run and Newton conducted the offence with determination.

On the defensive side Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis were brilliant – two outstanding linebackers – and upfront, the defensive line was exceptional, pretty much nullifying Seattle’s vaunted run-game.

But, the Seattle defence is always lurking and you have to be perfect. Unfortunately, Newton made two huge errors in the red zone.

In the fourth quarter, after another hard-earned and promising drive, Newton had the Panthers sniffing the end zone with the chance to close the score to 24-17, with four minutes to go. However, he delayed the pass and was intercepted by Chancellor.

That was game-over.

Kam Chancellor celebrates his 90-yard interception
Newton showed he has to improve. He played an almost perfect game, remarkable at times, but a lack of poise at the most critical moments is the difference between great and elite. And, in the NFL only elite quarterback play wins out.

Newton had a critical botched first-quarter handoff with Steward when he didn’t recognise the pressure on time. Later, he stared down his receiver and was almost intercepted by Thomas; it was still a costly error as the Panthers could only come away with a field goal from a good drive.

And, then in the end, Newton had the game sealing interception.

The Panthers, though, have a bright future. The defence is great, always a good foundation. The Panthers just need to improve their secondary to one that can cover top receivers and tackle consistently in open space. That would elevate the Panthers defence to the elite levels of the Seahawks.

As things stand, the Panthers have a defence that is above the average good NFL defence, almost elite. But since their offence isn’t as explosive, Carolina need a magnificent defence to pull them through – again, much like the Seahawks do.

The Panthers also need to upgrade on special teams, namely their kick returner. finally the Panthers have to upgrade on wide receiver. This year their top receiver, Kelvin Benjamin, was a rookie and he was backed up by a group of willing, but not game-breaking journeymen.

With those upgrades, in addition to an improving Newton, you have an elite team; one I feel could be Seattle’s biggest rival in the NFC over the next three or four years. Of course, it is easier said than done.

Seattle dynasty

The Future?
Russell Wilson and Cam Newton after Seattle's win
Russell Wilson. I don’t know what to say about him. I think he is the best quarterback in the game.

This is a very heavy statement, I know. Almost blasphemy. But, Wilson is truly amazing. He is a magician with his feet, throws brilliantly and, above all, is unshakable mentally. He doesn’t make mistakes. He is composed and really spreads a sense of calm throughout the team – ‘my quarterback got this’.

Wilson’s poise was pretty much summed up by his crazy play on third down. He was 8-8 for 199 yards passing in third down situations and all three of his beautiful touchdown strikes came on third and long situations.

As a team, Seattle really can be a dynasty. Incredibly, they have improved from last year. They look faster and even more menacing of the defensive side of the game. The performance of safeties Chancellor and Earl Thomas, in particular, was insane.

But the whole defence was unbelievable. Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett bring unreal pressure upfront and Bobby Wagner is the best middle linebacker in the game at the moment. And that’s not mentioning cornerbacks, Richard Sherman and Bryon Maxwell, and linebacker Bruce Irvin, another who had an outstanding game against the Panthers. It is almost as if the Seattle defence are trying to outdo each other and that competition breeds excellence.

On the offensive side Seattle are not yet explosive. But they are solid and they know who they are. Their running game sets everything up. Even when they don’t have the most productive night, like yesterday, they keep chugging away and that always makes them a multidimensional threat.

This is all conducted brilliantly by Wilson.

If plays breakdown he is able to make plays with his feet. He is always ice cool, able to keep his eye downfield on open receivers even under duress or on the run. Wilson is simply an amazing guy. And, altogether it makes Seattle very exciting, exciting for the future. The building blocks for a dynasty are there.

You better alert the legion!
Seattle Seahawks defence
Quick outs:

The difference between three and seven points
The Baltimore Ravens basically lost their AFC Divisional Round game against the New England Patriots because they had to settle for a field goal early in the fourth instead of a touchdown. With the scores tied at 28-28 in a topsy-turvy game, Joe Flacco, who had been unreal until then, just wasn’t able to engineer a touchdown. The Ravens had to settle for a field goal to make it 31-28 and, with Tom Brady on the field, that was dangerous. And so it proved. Brady led the Patriots on a methodical drive and New England won 35-31.

Similarly, Newton and the Panthers’ failure to get a touchdown just before halftime against Seattle was also a game changer. At 14-14 the game is different. But, behind you have to take more chances and against elite defences, such as the Seahawks, that’s when you get picked off. In post-season play, the difference between getting the touchdown or having to settle for a field goal is crucial.

We might have seen the Super Bowl two
Whatever happens tonight between the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers, to go to Seattle and win, especially at night, is just too tough. Things just happen there, like man-made earthquakes.The AFC is a bit more open, especially if the Denver Broncos prevail over the Indianapolis Colts. 

The Broncos are a champion team with a champion quarterback, Peyton Manning. They have added toughness and athleticism this season after their Super Bowl blowout last year. However, in Foxborough, you always have to side with Tom Brady and the Patriots. This year, I believe, we will be seeing the Seahawks and the Patriots in the Super Bowl.

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