Monday, February 3, 2014
Redskins can learn from Seahawks
By John Keim
1. Talent matters when it comes to compiling a defense, but Seattle is proof of how you can get the most out of that talent, especially defensively. They did it without a lot of first-round picks; they did it without spending a lot of money. It’s why the Redskins need to limit (quit) the blame game when it comes to any defensive problems.Certainly some issues played a part in what happened here (and, yes, turnovers killed the entire team this past season). The Seahawks are proof of what goes well when the organization is on that so-called same page and, when it came to the Redskins' defense, I'm not sure that was always the case. Still. It can be done without: spending a lot on players and no first-round picks. Not that Seattle lacked first-round picks, but the Seahawks’ defense has thrived without many of them.
2. Seattle’s starting lineup includes five players selected in the last three drafts – only one in the first round. The Seahawks did a good enough job that you forget about the big miss on linebacker Aaron Curry as the fourth overall pick in 2009.
Safety Earl Thomas is one of just two first-round picks starting on the Seahawks' defense.
3. The Seahawks’ starting defense includes two former first-round picks (safety Earl Thomas, 2010; linebacker Bruce Irvin, 2012). That’s it. The Redskins last season had five former first-round picks. But three of them were drafted by other teams. Way of life here. So the Seahawks have more picks in Rounds 4-7 (six) among their defensive starters than players selected in Rounds 1-3 (four). They also had a former undrafted free agent in Chris Clemons. Not every coach -- including good ones -- are strong at developing talent. They'd rather have players already developed (who wouldn't?). But the point is that you can get there this way and be successful. I don't know if outside linebackers coach Brian Baker is adept at doing this, but I know inside linebackers coach Kirk Olivadotti has been in the past.
4. This has become my favorite phrase the past couple of weeks, but I’ll use it again: draft and develop. Seattle’s defensive starters include nine of its draft picks. The Seahawks not only won a Super Bowl, they did it in inexpensive fashion. Their one big free agent, Cliff Avril (who does not start, but plays a lot), was key. Though he didn’t record a sack his pressures in the past two games resulted in huge plays -- the tipped pass for a pick against San Francisco and Malcolm Smith's return for a touchdown Sunday. The point: use all avenues to improve, but you don’t need a lot of free agents to succeed.
5. I like that players such as Kam Chancellor play special teams. My guess is that he hasn’t lost the drive that turned him from a fifth-round pick in 2010 to a starter and Pro Bowler. Meanwhile, the Redskins had a sixth-round pick (Bacarri Rambo) who was not a good special-teams player. Nor was fifth-rounder Brandon Jenkins. Sean Taylor used to love playing on special teams. When guys have that sort of hunger, it trickles down. When you don’t -- and when you have veterans who would rather not be on there -- it also trickles down.
6. It’s not just playing with a hunger, it’s preparing with one. That’s what turned London Fletcher from an undrafted guy into what he became. The Seahawks have multiple players like that; even former first-round pick Earl Thomas, whose talent is enhanced by his preparation. Phillip Thomas, a fourth-round pick by Washington last season, had a reputation in college for preparing a certain way. I don’t know if he’ll develop into a good player, but it gives him a shot.
7. Seattle’s defense plays fast and with a hunger that few other teams possess. It’s hard to emulate unless you get the right collection of players. But Seattle’s formula included constantly looking for such players, which is why the Seahawks made so many transactions early in Pete Carroll’s tenure.
8. By the way, Carroll is a defensive coach. He hasn’t harmed Russell Wilson's development. It’s why, when the Redskins were looking for a coach, my thought was to not write off one side of the ball for candidates. Good head coaches come from any side; maybe Jay Gruden will be one for the Redskins. But it’s why you should never limit yourself in a search (the Redskins did not, though it seemed like they favored Gruden from the get-go).
9. I also know that having John Schneider there helps tremendously. There are other successful organizations that do things well and do it a little differently (though the draft would be a common thread) so there’s more than one way to get there. It's wrong to think only Seattle has that formula, but the Seahawks are the franchise du jour. But for the most part there’s an organizational blueprint that is followed by the best teams, the ones who consistently win. I don't think the Redskins have always been on that same page. That's not to say they missed on everyone because they haven't; they just haven't developed enough lower-round picks to build depth or provide low-cost starters.
10. What Wilson did so well Sunday night is what Robert Griffin III needs to mimic: Hit the plays that are available, including those slant routes. They sustain drives. Wilson wasn’t always perfect in the playoffs on these routes (watch the New Orleans game when he missed them a few times by throwing behind the receiver). But in the past two games he was on target with those passes, especially on third downs. He also extended plays (in the playoffs and all season) and consistently hurt teams when doing so -- by throwing the ball, not running. Wilson knows how to operate in the pocket and he threw with a terrific (and consistent) base. Wilson ran 11 times for 42 yards in the postseason, including 3 carries for 26 yards Sunday night. The ability to run is helpful and needs to be used, but if it's a constant crutch then it's not a good thing.