The Seahawks need to call Kam Chancellor as soon as possible.
They need to waive his fines. Open contract-extension negotiations. Say they are sorry. Send a "missing you" balloon bouquet and a basket full of fancy soaps and gourmet popcorn. They need to get him back, stat.
They also need to ask him if he knows anyone who can play the offensive line.
The Seahawks' 34-31 overtime loss to the Rams taught us that it doesn't really matter what play the team calls in short-yardage situations. If the Seahawks throw a pass at the goal line in the Super Bowl, it fails. If they try to cram Marshawn Lynch down the Rams' throat on 4th-and-1 in overtime, it fails. The Seahawks, for all of their talent, are destined to fall short of their Super Bowl goal this season if they do not change their ways, because:
- Their offensive line is terrible.
- Their wide receiving corps isn't much better. And worst of all...
- They have come down with an organizational case of self-outsmartment.
Chancellor cannot help solve the first two problems. He's more of a symptom of the third. The Seahawks have their salary-cap plan and negotiation model, and they have chosen to stick with it in Chancellor's case, even though they fudged a bit when they renegotiated with Lynch last year.
Cap and negotiation philosophies are what separate the contenders from the Redskins, but a team must know when to wiggle. The Seahawks are a Super Bowl contender because their secondary and their offensive backfield are exceptional. Anything they do that weakens one of those units weakens the team, perhaps critically.
Chancellor was missed Sunday afternoon when Rams players like Benny Cunningham and Jared Cook racked up yards after the catch and Tavon Austin weaved his way into the end zone. But the Seahawks' self-outsmartment was far more evident on the offensive line, a unit which has been a problem since last year and only got worse in the offseason.
Russell Wilson endured six sacks. Lynch rushed for 73 yards but needed to break about 63 tackles to do it. When you watch Lynch get stuffed in overtime, watch right tackle Garry Gilliam get shoved into the backfield by Michael Brockers.
Gilliam is one of the Seahawks' pet projects. Instead of drafting a tackle in a fairly deep draft for offensive linemen, they tinkered with Gilliam, an undrafted 2014 rookie who started his college career at tight end. They talked themselves into naming Gilliam the starter when Justin Britt moved inside to guard. The Seahawks hadn't bothered drafting a guard until the fourth round, either.
Even with the offensive line blocking like ushers at a free concert and the secondary operating at 75 percent capacity, the Seahawks still had a chance to avoid an upset at the hands of the Rams thanks to Nick Foles getting surprised by a shotgun snap, Isaiah Pead somehow getting meaningful carries that led to meaningful fumbles and Cary Williams making a spectacular defensive play and then pulling a Cary Williams by taking the rest of the afternoon off.
The Rams won the overtime toss and chose to receive, making the Seahawks' path to victory clear: Pin the Rams at or inside their own 20, unleash the Legion of Boom, get good field position and either parlay that into a win.
Instead, the Seahawks onside-kicked, giving the Rams great field position for their cannon-legged field-goal kicker and a chance to win the game with their defense, the one the Seahawks couldn't block at all.
This is not typical Week 1 conclusion-jumping or panic-button pushing. It's a festering problem the Seahawks need to address.
Successful organizations often reach the point where their strengths become weaknesses: They get diminishing returns on the things they do best, while the little quirks and kinks they used to be able to compensate for suddenly grow into major problems.
Lynch, Wilson, Richard Sherman, Jimmy Graham, Earl Thomas, Cliff Avril, Russell Okung and a few others will keep the Seahawks in the playoff picture, because they are great players in a strong organization.
But the offensive line, wide receivers and oddball decisions could keep the Seahawks at arm's length from the Super Bowl because the others can no longer compensate for them.
So the Seahawks had better get Chancellor back as soon as possible. It may be too late to save their offensive line this year. But they can still make sure their defense is the best in the league, and they can also remind themselves that just because they are usually the smartest guys in the room doesn't mean they are incapable of making some pretty dumb mistakes.
So much goes on in Week 1 that it's impossible to give all the storylines the attention they deserve. This edition of Stock Watch focuses mostly on the questions we have waited six months to finally start answering.
The Manning-Kubiak Marriage: Falling. Cue the banjo music: It's time for Dueling Ravens! Instead of making Peyton Manning and the Broncos better, Gary Kubiak—fresh from a stint as the Ravens offensive coordinator last year—made them more Ravens-like Sunday.
Instead of watching former Super Bowl quarterbacks Joe Flacco and Manning match arms and wits the way they did in the playoffs three years ago, we saw two teams try to win with pick-sixes and extra-long field goals. It was the Ravens intrasquad scrimmage you never asked for.
Manning looked dreadful for most of the 19-13 Broncos win he marginally contributed to. It's as if Kubiak combined the worst elements of his own system—predictability, an over-reliance on play-action deep passes—with the worst elements of Manning's signature spread-the-field offense.
Manning's protection was often terrible, blitz pickup was spotty, and even the young Manning wasn't known for firing bombs up the sidelines. There were few I-formation rollouts (thank heavens), but there was also little of the point-and-bark Manning spontaneity at the line of scrimmage.
There was something sad and desperate about seeing Manning hand off to C.J. Anderson, fake an option keeper, then fake one of those quick option screens to a receiver while the Ravens defense just ignored him and chased Anderson. Peyton, no one believes you will ever, ever run. We're not even sure you can still throw.
Manning did little to quiet the chatter that he has lost not just his fastball but some of his other pitches. There were overthrows, worm-killers and even plays where Manning didn't appear to see open receivers.
Timing and comfort in the system were factors, and the Ravens defense has been causing fits for even the best quarterbacks for almost 20 years. So we shouldn't sound the Brock Osweiler sirens yet. But at times, Manning looked like...it's painful to even type this...Matt Schaub in 2013.
Of course, few quarterbacks ever look as bad as Flacco on the road in a non-playoff game. The Ravens also lost Terrell Suggs for the year with an Achilles injury. When two AFC powerhouses (three, if you count the Colts) look awful, we can only draw one conclusion: The Patriots win on Sundays even when they don't play.
The Cowboys' Running Back Committee: Falling. The Cowboys' 27-26 victory over the Giants was sloppy, entertaining madness, full of beach volleyball-like tipped interceptions, Dez Bryant limping back and forth to the locker room like James Brown at the end of a concert, spirited play by the undermanned Giants and another spike though the heart of the "Tony Romo Chokes" vampire storyline.
What the Cowboys win did not feature, however, was a great performance by the Great Wall of Dallas 2.0 (that's the official, awful nickname of their offensive line) or a definitive answer to the question that hovered over thousands of fantasy drafts: Who will the featured runner be?
Here's what we learned Sunday night:
- Joseph Randle (16 carries for 65 yards) is the starter and may have realized that DeMarco Murray is easier to watch and criticize than replace.
- Darren McFadden (six carries for 16 yards) is still a reliable source of 2.7 yards per pop.
- Lance Dunbar (eight catches for 70 yards, some final-drive heroics) is the third-down back, because a) he's good at it and b) would you trust Randle or McFadden in that role?
- Christine Michael has found a new depth chart to rappel down.
- Jerry Jones will probably meddle in this situation all year, because Jones can't help but wax philosophical about running back usage patterns. I'm hoping he slips and demands more carries for Marion Barber.
- With Dez expected to miss four to six weeks with a foot injury, the Cowboys have bigger worries than which running back will get the most carries.
Jordy Nelson's Replacements: Rising. Remember James Jones, the high-jumping sideline tightrope walker? Aaron Rodgers sure did, hitting Jones for two touchdowns, as well as a deep pass that led to an interference penalty to set up another touchdown in the Packers' 31-23 win over the Bears.
Remember Eddie Lacy? He gained 1,566 yards from scrimmage last year. He gained 99 Sunday. Remember Randall Cobb? He was less than 100 percent with a shoulder injury, but he still caught five passes for 38 yards and a touchdown. The yardage total was low, but Cobb caught several short tosses into the flat on third-and-medium, converting them into first downs.
So Rodgers still has weapons.
Granted, all is not perfect. Rodgers spent a lot of time standing in the pocket and waiting for something to happen; teams with a better pass rush than the Bears will cause problems. Rodgers also had to impersonate Brett Favre a few times, shot-putting one completion to Lacy and tossing a lateral to Richard Rodgers during a scramble. The Packers would prefer a little more precision and a little less improvisation.
Overall, however, the Packers proved they still have many ways to beat you, even without Nelson.
As for Davante Adams, Nelson's official replacement: He caught four passes, but he did something far more important to Packers fans. He successfully gobbled up an onside kick.
Ndamukong Suh: Falling. Suh recorded one tackle and one assist for Miami, allegedly poked Redskins tackle Morgan Moses in the eye and seemingly stomped on a fallen Alfred Morris in what might have been an intentional cheap shot (CBS Sports rounded up the action). It was a classic two-play, two-allegation Suh stat line.
Suh fit a lot of alleged shenanigans into a low amount of playing time. He took his first "Suh breather" with 9:40 to play in the first quarter. He later took the first two plays of a Redskins series off in the second quarter, saving himself for third down. I don't have full snap counts, but Suh spent a lot of time on the bench on a cool East Coast afternoon for a guy who recently signed a contract for $60 million guaranteed.
The rest of the Dolphins defensive line looked pretty good after getting gouged for some early runs, so Suh will get credit for occupying lots of double-teams so his teammates could make plays. I didn't see him occupy many double-teams, but maybe he did it when no one was looking, kind of like the (alleged) eye gouges and Morris stomps.
Jadeveon Clowney: Rising. Clowney recorded three tackles, one for a loss, plus an assist in a fairly high number of snaps against the Chiefs. He looked like a huge, athletic dude with some very basic clue of what he was doing, though he often got suction-cupped onto blockers or just chased Jamaal Charles across the field.
On an unrelated note, Vince Wilfork looks like he swallowed a walrus.
Kirk Cousins: Steady. Kirk Cousins had a Kirk Cousins game. He looked pretty good when the Redskins running game was churning and tight end Jordan Reed was trucking everyone in his path after play-action receptions. But Cousins threw a pair of ugly interceptions, and once the Dolphins led by seven, they might as well have led by 27 points. (Jay Gruden abandoned the running game with DeSean Jackson sidelined, while the Redskins were leading in the second half, which is so Gruden.)
Cousins is more of a narrative device than a quarterback, anyway. He's just there until the Redskins come up with a worse idea.
The Tyrod Taylor Experience: Rising. Matt Cassel officially started at quarterback for the Bills, who came out of their first huddle of the year with Cassel at quarterback and Taylor at wide receiver. They proceeded to execute some ridiculous Wildcat nonsense that resulted in a six-yard loss.
Taylor then settled in as the real quarterback. He completed 14 of 19 passes for 195 yards, threw a 51-yard gem to Percy Harvin, ran nine times for 41 yards in mostly judicious situations and looked like the best quarterback in the stadium on an afternoon when Andrew Luck appeared to be executing a randomized game plan.
The most remarkable thing about the Taylor offense was how conventional it was. There were minimal option wrinkles or over-engineered efforts to get the football to Harvin or LeSean McCoy after that opening Wildcat. Taylor made most of his throws from the pocket. Mostly, the Bills just pounded the football between the tackles against a Colts defense that seemed to think it was still mid-August.
If the Bills offense is really as good at conventional offense as it looked Sunday, the AFC East is going to be a very interesting place, starting with next week's Bills-Patriots game. Which is good news, because the rest of the Patriots challengers didn't look so hot.
Johnny Manziel: Rising. It was not even 2 p.m. Eastern time. I was working my way through the fourth chicken wing of the 2015 season. Suddenly, there was a disturbance in the quarterback narrative, like a million midday sports-talk radio callers crying out as one.
Josh McCown injured himself in a gutsy helicopter leap toward the end zone. (In gutsy McCown fashion, he fumbled through the end zone for a touchback.) It was Johnny Football time!
Manziel initially looked great, completing a 54-yard touchdown pass to Travis Benjamin on 3rd-and-19 (a chop block on a 22-yard scramble set up the desperate down-and-distance situation.) Manziel led another short field goal drive, completing a Houdini pass after a scramble on 3rd-and-10 and nearly connecting with Andrew Hawkins for a second touchdown.
After halftime, Manziel turned back into the inexperienced backup on a team with few weapons who wasted his rookie year on loose living and missed much of the preseason with a sore arm. He threw an interception, fumbled and became increasingly unglued as the Jets pulled away for a 31-10 win.
Manziel has become a kind of Tim Tebow surrogate. Many fans want to believe in him because they loved him in college and want to believe in second chances. I would like to see him flip the script on last year's kid doesn't get it storyline and send a message that substance-abuse counseling can put a troubled young person back on the road to success.
So it's great that Manziel was trusted to take the field in the first place, threw a touchdown pass and made some other positive plays. It's just a long, long road back from where he was last year to where he needs to be if he wants to become more than a mid-afternoon diversion from the games that really matter.
Mariota Rules, Winston Drools
There must always be a Peyton Manning and a Ryan Leaf, a Goofus and a Gallant, a Luck and an RG3, a triumph and a tragedy, a savior of a franchise and a destroyer of another. Getting picked at the top of the draft is a zero-sum game for quarterbacks: One is always destined for greatness, the other humiliation.
Actually, that's not true at all. Quarterback careers are complicated, and no matter what history may have in store, judging rookie quarterbacks by their debuts is dangerous. For evidence, see Manning's three-interception debut in 1998 (Leaf won his first game), or just remember all the warm, fuzzy feelings you had about Robert Griffin three years ago.
Marcus Mariota threw for four touchdowns in a 42-14 win over the Buccaneers, while Jameis Winston threw for 210 yards, threw a pair of interceptions, completed 48.5 percent of his passes and endured four sacks.
Who cares? It was only one game.
It was also the only game we have to work with, and it was an emphatic success for Mariota and a troubling debut for Winston. We shouldn't overreact, but we shouldn't under-react, either.
Mariota was sharp from the start. His passes had velocity and precision. He also demonstrated good timing on a few throws, including a 20-yard floater up the seam to Harry Douglas to set up a touchdown.
Mariota did not rely on his mobility often, with just two rushes for six yards, but there were some option wrinkles in the Titans offense. He once kept the ball after a fake handoff and threw one of those glorified option-pitch passes to a receiver in the flat. You can picture Ken Whisenhunt pacing around his office until 4 a.m. before finally sticking that one in the game plan.
Mariota wasn't perfect. He took a sack deep in his own territory and lost control of the football, which bounded into his own end zone. Luckily for Mariota, the referees ruled that he was in the grasp before the ball came loose.
Mariota also had the benefit of playing with a big lead for the entire second half. Nothing makes a good passing performance look great like only having to attempt 16 passes and never having to force a throw on 3rd-and-long.
Winston had to force a lot of throws. He also forced throws he did not have to force, starting with an ill-advised floater toward the left sideline with Coty Sensabaugh lying on his very first NFL pass. Sensabaugh's pick-six set the tone for the afternoon.
Winston held the ball too long too often. He had trouble with at least one handoff exchange. He got tripped by his own lineman once. He scrambled productively at times, but Winston is a lumbering runner. He completed a few encouraging passes during one meaningful first-half touchdown drive, then did nothing to generate optimism until the Titans had a 42-7 fourth-quarter lead.
It was only one game. It was a learning experience.
Buccaneers big-play receiver Mike Evans was hurt, while Mariota enjoyed a full complement of weapons. Neither team is going anywhere this year, and so forth.
But Mariota arrived in Tennessee with questions about his arm strength, ability to call conventional NFL plays and adaptability to Coach Whiz's system. His arm looked great, the offense moved smoothly without the need for giant Oregon flashcards on the sideline, and Whiz showed a willingness to meet Mariota at least a quarter of the way strategically. Mariota answered some questions.
Winston arrived in Tampa as a college quarterback who threw far too many interceptions and made suspect decisions with the ball in his hand (and other times). He proceeded to throw interceptions and make iffy decisions. Winston did nothing to silence doubters.
For now, Mariota is the rising star and Winston the "I told you so" guy, the Gallant and the Goofus for another six days. Tune in next decade to find who they really become.
This segment used to be called Participation Trophies. But we don't want to offend James Harrison, nor the millions of people who agree with Harrison's opinion that giving kids trophies just for "showing up" doesn't prepare them properly for cruel, miserable adult life. Also, what's the deal with PBS Sprout: How does Poppy Cat get our children ready to execute bank mergers or cope with chronic sciatica? Turn the TV off and go dig a ditch, you little kindergarten freeloaders!
But I digress. Harrison and other NFL types know that life is not about getting awarded for just showing up. It's about contractually negotiated bonuses for doing things like staying on the roster a few days past the waiver period, staying at team headquarters for offseason conditioning, or getting on the field for a certain number of snaps. You know, showing up.
Many of these performance bonuses will look suspiciously like participation trophies. That's because, Harrison and hard-core Spartan dads out there aside, no one is ever too old to enjoy seeing a little gold star next to his name!
Offensive Line Bonus: The Jets offensive line helped Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell combine for 153 rushing yards while not allowing Ryan Fitzpatrick to be sacked. Before you scoff about facing the Browns, remember the Browns defense is nasty. So let's hear it for D'Brickashaw Ferguson, James Carpenter, Nick Mangold, Willie Colon and Breno "The Brazilian Whacks" Giacomini.
Special Teams Bonus: Brandon McManus of the Broncos kicked 57- and 56-yard field goals, added 43- and 33-yarders, and produced five kickoff touchbacks on six attempts (the other was a squib before halftime) against an opponent, Baltimore, with a history of causing return catastrophes in Denver.
McManus and Justin Tucker (52-yarder) appeared headed for a distance-kicking battle before the defenders took over the scoring chores. Maybe McManus and Tucker should form a Kubiak Offense Support Group. They can meet at the 37-yard line.
Unsung Defensive Hero Bonus: Chargers rookie fifth-round pick Kyle Emanuel sacked Matthew Stafford for a 14-yard loss, intercepted a pass after Melvin Ingram hit Stafford as he released the ball and stopped Ameer Abdullah (who gave the Chargers fits all afternoon) on a screen for a loss of three. Remember Emanuel's name, even though he plays for the NFL's most nameless defense.
Fantasy Leech Bonus: Danny Woodhead scored two short touchdowns in the Chargers' 33-28 win over the Lions, but despite his size (5'8", 200 lbs) and third-down-back reputation, Woodhead does not count as a fantasy leech. He has been getting carries near the goal line for years. If you drafted rookie Melvin Gordon and assumed he would get all of the red-zone touches, that's on you.
The real Leech bonus goes to Brandon Coleman, who scored the only Saints touchdown in a 31-19 Cardinals win on a catch-and-run play that really, really should have gone to fantasy-sleeper darling Brandin Cooks.
Meaningless Fantasy Touchdown Bonus: Andrew Luck knows how much fantasy gamers count on him, which is why he threw two touchdowns in the second half after the Bills mounted a 24-0 lead, the second (to Dwayne Allen) with 5:56 left to play.
Fantasy Waiver Bid Overreaction Bonus: The folks in your fantasy league probably will bid the fantasy mortgage on James Jones. There's nothing wrong with investing in someone with a track record of being one of Rodgers' favorite big-play targets.
Just remember that Jones only generates two types of plays: the thrilling corner-of-the-end-zone touchdown and the thrilling not-quite touchdown because Jones only gets one foot in bounds, doesn't complete the catch, or so forth. In a typical week, the latter will outnumber the former.
Game-Plan Bonus: Who needs touchdown passes to wide receivers when Andy Reid stays up all night dreaming of new Jamaal Charles screen passes and innovative ways to get Travis Kelce open? Kelce scored two touchdowns, Charles added 103 scrimmage yards and a touchdown, and the Chiefs let J.J. Watt get his two sacks while making sure no one else on the Texans defense did a blessed thing but get fooled by misdirection or cover receivers who were never going to actually have a downfield pass thrown to them.
The Texans should be worried about their entire franchise being turned into just a Watt helmetless-sack highlight-delivery system. The Chiefs shouldn't worry about how many touchdowns their wide receivers score as long as Kelce and Charles can spring for three of them per week.
Griffin Cam. Robert Griffin got plenty of screen time in the Redskins loss to the Dolphins. Griffin is now the Designated Reaction Shot Guy. The broadcast director keeps a camera trained on him at all times to capture his every smile, wince and blank expression in search of something to extend the Griffin storyline, which is a lot like extending the dental surgery.
Among the things we saw on Griffin Cam this week:
Griffin mumbling to coaches. A variety of assistant coaches were dispatched to stand within reasonable conversational distance of Griffin, because making him stand in an isolated corner of the sideline would look bad by even Redskins standards. Griffin's wingmen typically wore headsets, so when Griffin muttered wisdom to them, they probably only heard Patriots sports-talk radio.
Griffin smirking. Cousins threw an incomplete pass near the goal line on second down, and the Griffin Cam caught a wry smile flashing across his face. Not so easy is it, Kirk? Soon they will turn back to me! And then...um...I will screw up or get hurt and they will turn back to you. And then we'll do this same thing when Bill Callahan becomes coach. Gee, there is really no way out, is there?
Griffin engaging in contextually appropriate celebrations. Griffin clapped along with the FedEx Field crowd after a big play; you could almost see the "applause" sign in his brain light up, like he was in the audience of a really dull late-night talk show.
Moments after the smirk mentioned above, Griffin raised his arms in delight when Cousins hit Jordan Reed for a touchdown. How long do my arms have to stay like this so it looks really sincere? One Mississippi. Two Mississippi. Maybe I should make "jazz hands" or something.
Griffin Cam was much less prevalent in the second half of the telecast. Perhaps it was because the Redskins special teams gave up a touchdown, their defense was ordinary at best and Cousins did nothing to warrant Griffin reactions. Or perhaps the broadcast director realized that turning all of the Redskins' faults and woes into a saga about one player who wasn't even in uniform was not just misleading but a little cruel.
If Griffin is forced to do nothing on the sideline, let him do nothing on the sideline without stalking him for three hours in search of stray facial tics that might open a window to his very soul (but probably won't).
Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.