NOTE: Again, this is something I'm trying out each week after a Seahawks loss, so let me know what you think. It's a little bit late this week because work and school are rapidly deteriorating my mental fortitude.
Back when I was a young buck I didn’t know a terrible lot about football. I wasn’t that interested and knew it only as something into which my Pops invested entire weekends after yard work was taken care of. Admittedly I was far more interested in drinking pop and playing Nintendo 64; whatever commentary this holds regarding modern parenting is an aside. I’d spend hours playing my favorite game, NFL Blitz, with my favorite opponent and best friend Paul Fickel, downing several cans of Safeway Select Cola as the afternoons and evenings wasted away.
Even at the age of 10 I didn’t have much in the way of a home team and didn’t know what it was like to feel a loyalty to college or professional sports organizations. Thus, my team selection in NFL Blitz consisted of finding the most balanced team in all phases of the game. I wasn’t much of a risk-taker (as much risk as can be found in playing a video game) and never went for broke on teams that had an amazing offense but a deplorable defense, or a great defense but miserable special teams.
In watching the slaughter this past weekend, the 2010 version of our Seattle Seahawks made me think of those days playing NFL Blitz. Why?
Even as we struggle, the Seahawks’ Special Teams are finally special
If a version of NFL Blitz 2010 were to come out today for Nintendo 64 — yes, keeping console continuity is sacred — I imagine the Seahawks ability profile would look something like this:
SPECIAL TEAMS: ||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||
It’s like that car in your favorite childhood racing game that has no speed or acceleration, but boy does it handle well. There’s no way in hell the ten year-old me picks this team, but I digress.
For years I hated (HATED) Seahawks when it came to special teams. Some of our returners (Burleson, Wilson, Force, etc.) were fun to watch, but our kick/punt return coverage has been historically atrocious. You could expect to see the first four or five Seahawks rub a returner down with a few arm tackles and could only pray that our kicking specialists had been hitting the tackling dummies during the week. Well, enough of that.
Obviously raw statistics lend themselves to being manipulated and misused. Different game situations make for skewed numbers and can make teams look better or worse than they might be, and that’s why Football Outsiders is one of the best tools for the modern sports fan. According to our friends at FO, through Week 9 the Seahawks still hold the honor of the top Special Teams DVOA and this has been the largest difference that I’ve seen from this team compared to those in the past; it’s just wildly unfortunate that this has come at a time when our offense has regressed to nil and our defense is on the field for egregious amounts of time per game.
With the exception of Devin Hester’s punt return touchdown in Week 6, the 2010 Seahawks on special teams have been smothering, swarming to ball carriers and sealing blocks like I cannot recall seeing in years past. Pete Carroll made Special Teams an emphasis this offseason and, well, the statistics show it.
Yeah, Leon, I don't know why they kick to you either.
Neon Leon Washington, leading the NFL in kick return yard average for returners with more than one attempt at 31.4 YPR, has proven his worth to this team beyond a reasonable doubt. He has presented our offense with every opportunity to put points on the board by giving them the short field. I hate it when announcers state that "every time this guy touches the ball he has the potential to take it to the house," but whenever Leon receives a kickoff I legitimately get that feeling in my bones. If the season were to end today Leon would be our one legitimate shot at a Pro Bowler, and rightfully so: the man has one of the most dangerous jobs in one of the most dangerous sports in existence, and excels. I don’t know about you, but if there was a very real chance of my career and/or physical walking ability to end five-plus times every Sunday I don’t know if I’d exactly be "leaving it all out on the field," as the saying goes, but this man does and it makes a gargantuan difference for our team.
Does this legitimately depress anybody else in terms of their own physical fitness?
Jon Ryan, the Ragin’ Canajin’, having been over-utilized this season given our dearth of offensive production, is tied at 19 for most punts downed inside the 20-yard line and is second in the league in net punting yards. He makes up for his pigment deficiency with long, high-hanging punts that every special teams gunner dreams about. Football Outsiders shows that Jon Ryan also leads the league in swaggalicious honey-herding sex locks, an obscure hair statistic kept only by FO that makes the ladies say "Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeah!"
Olindo has a sleepover at Al Bundy's house.
Olindo "Brolindo" Mare is as ageless as they come. The man is 37 and has been an asset since arriving in Seattle. While he isn’t the statistical leader in any given category, Seahawks fans can go into games with a large degree of confidence that kickoffs will yield touchbacks and field goals not attempted in Oakland will produce points.
Golden Tate at punt returner is exciting in its prospects, but there has not been enough of a body of work to necessarily warrant an entire exciting section… although he does run with the ball as if he has both no idea what he is doing and an expertly-planned strategy for amazing the crowd.
Special teams is a phase of the game that is usually an afterthought in the greater scheme of football. When it’s going well, as in the Seahawks’ case, it makes a significant difference (See also: Chargers game, Cardinals game). When it’s going poorly, it can take a Super Bowl contender with the best offense and defense in football (See also: Chargers, again) and turn the team into a sub-.500, underachieving media punching bag. So as this season rolls along and our team creakily with it, take pride in the fact that the Seahawks’ special teams are exciting to watch.