Thinking through the lingering Seahawks-49ers NFC Championship topics

Controversy may become synonymous with Seahawks-49ers match ups in coming years. Both teams are very good, and very similar, from their respective head coaches to their personnel philosophies. There is no doubt that Sunday’s match up that decided the NFC’s champion will go down as one of the most prominent games in what is becoming football’s most heated rivalry, but unfortunately, and quite frankly unfairly, the game is likely to be remembered for some things that had nothing to do with what happened on the field of play.

Richard Sherman’s post game interview

I almost never actually try to play devil’s advocate. However, in this age of 24 hour partisan news with seemingly endless dozens of options from which to obtain your “facts,” an interview from Richard Sherman after the game is bound to be grossly sensationalized. The Seahawks are being painted as a villain, and the Master Shredder of this Foot Clan – at least so far as the media wants to portray nationally – is Richard Sherman.

On Sunday Sherman had a microphone thrust into his face mere seconds after realizing what for all but the most insanely naturally gifted and tremendously lucky only dream about. Richard Sherman made the kind of play that will show up on endorsements for Gatorade 30 years from now, presuming of course that the world avoids nuclear holocaust, or the abolition of contact sports in the wake of concussion litigation. We’ve found out that Richard Sherman and Michael Crabtree have a history – albeit one mostly unspoken up until now – of perhaps irrational behavior towards each other. Even still, Sherman acted basically exactly as you’d expect in that moment. He’s not a politician. He’s not a coach. Richard Sherman is a 25-year-old man with a degree in communications from perhaps the West Coast’s best academic institution. He’s outspoken, and when he’s challenged and meets that challenge, he’s downright abrasive.

Sherman didn’t say anything personal about Michael Crabtree that didn’t directly reference his on-field performance. Sherman was faced with a challenge, some trash talk, and some personal animosity, and came out the victor. There are people who win with grace, and people who don’t. Sometimes people who don’t win with grace are unforgivable jerks thereafter. Sherman was simply consistent with the persona he’s shown at every major juncture to this point in his career. He wasn’t an unforgivable jerk.

But was he wrong?

Michael Crabtree has been relatively disappointing as a football player, no? He’s got one season over a thousand yards. He had four receptions in eight targets on Sunday, gaining 52 yards, but beyond being only fine on Sunday, hasn’t his entire career been somewhat disappointing? I mean, this is the same guy that slipped to 10th in the 2009 draft largely as a result of his financial desires (also largely related to a foot injury), and then held out for a larger contract than the 10th pick would normally receive because he thought his talent warranted a higher pick.

Don’t get me wrong, mediocrity is basically a function of where you set the baseline. Crabtree was arguably best active receiver on the field in Seattle on Sunday. But it’s arguable. And most of the Seahawks receiving corps is undrafted.

Crabtree has averaged 57.6 yards per game since entering the NFL. That’s the twenty-ninth best among active receivers. And sure, he’s had issues at quarterback in San Francisco for some of that time, but so have some other guys that rank higher, namely Percy Harvin and Dwayne Bowe. There are undoubtedly better metrics to determine comprehensive quality for wide receivers. According to DVOA Crabtree was only 3.6 percent better than average in his five regular season games in 2013. In 2012, which was by far his best season, he ranked 13th in the category. Sidney Rice was seventh. Golden Tate was fourth.

Michael Crabtree is not elite. He’s probably not “sorry,” but why countless masses of people and analysts have come to his defense is beyond me.

It goes without saying that the racist tweets that Sherman faced after the interview, regardless of his level of disrespect for Crabtree, were totally uncalled for. Unfortunately, Twitter has a lot of members, and the right Twitter searches could probably conjure up terrible racial slurs and exclamations when anyone of Sherman’s level of prominence does anything. That doesn’t excuse it, rather illuminates the sadness that such behavior is to be expected still in 2014.

The tired, lazy, Darrell Bevell play calling narrative

Sean Kramer is one of my best friends in the world, and I really believe that some day he’ll be one of the most respected journalists to come from the northwest. He’s talented, tenacious, persistent, and increasingly professional. He’s going to be very mad at me for bringing this up again, but after the first play of Sunday’s game, the play in which Russell Wilson fumbled after being sacked by Aldon Smith while rolling left, Kramer was up in arms over the play call from Bevell.

He and I argued on twitter about it for a while. Ultimately, looking back, Wilson had more than four seconds to throw the ball, more than two of which were after the play action with Wilson’s eyes and shoulders facing forward.

Sometimes plays don’t work, but for us to even attempt to consider play calling is a flawed narrative, and a lazy one.

The first part: on TV we get a very small view of the play. We don’t see the vast majority of routes run. We don’t see the majority of coverages against those passes.

Even on All-22 footage we don’t really know what play was called, and if all players on the field are executing it properly. The Madden generation of football fans probably feels more entitled to pass judgement on this as complex as play calling and offensive game planning than any generation.

Plays that don’t work aren’t necessarily poorly designed or called incorrectly. There’s most certainly a bit of randomness in all plays. No play has a 100 percent probability of success.

Not to mention, Pete Carroll has been pretty adamant that this team will establish the run first, basically always. A third-and-long draw play has a low success rate, it also has a low disaster rate. Run plays on first down set up future pass plays.

This team still has a second-year quarterback. They still have an amazing running back. They ranked seventh in the league in Team Offense DVOA in 2013. In 2012 they ranked fourth.

I wasn’t in love with the Darrell Bevell hire when he came to Seattle, but it’s hard to make an argument with any merit or backing against Bevell’s production and this team’s offensive performance.

So long as Pete Carroll and Marshawn Lynch are both in Seattle, this team will probably never rank among the team’s best passing teams. The Seahawks are zigging right now while the rest of the league zags. That can be scary and easy to criticize. It can also be very successful. Like, Super Bowl successful.

Navorro Bowman, Jeremy Lane, Popcorn, and Instant Replays

You’ll find very few dudes that are made more squeamish by bones breaking than me. I still haven’t watch the Anderson Silva leg break, and in fact, it was only on accident that I saw a still frame of it as it broke. From my perspective, the play that injured Navorro Bowman wasn’t shown too much. It was a very important play, and got shown an appropriate amount for a play of its magnitude.

Bowman recovered a fumble whilst tearing his ACL, and for some reason the refs didn’t see it. The Seahawks recovered that already-recovered fumble, but fumbled on the next play, turning what was possession on the one yard line into a turnover, and one that booted the ball out to the 15 yard line. It’s pretty certain that San Francisco was better off losing a down and gaining 14 yards, taking them out of the shadow of their own goalpost. They weren’t better off losing Bowman for the game, and what seems like even perhaps part of next season, but injuries aren’t able to be reversed by the referees. Coincidentally, neither is a fumble recovery in the field of play, for whatever, inexplicable reason. Ultimately the bounces evened out on this, and the lingering controversy surrounds “food being thrown on Bowman as he entered the tunnel.”

From a literal perspective, Bowman had food thrown on him. Or had food land on him. The frame shows popcorn falling from the stands from presumably a fan. Anecdotes seem to point to it being thrown. This popcorn may represent some amount of disrespect, but I mean it’s only popcorn right? Seahawks fans in Fresno were literally shot after this game in an altercation with a 49ers fan.

Is some popcorn on the sock that covers the skin of a talented athlete really a greater crime than the bloodshed that has become the reputation of San Francisco fans?

This isn’t to excuse anyone being that disrespectful to anyone. Navorro Bowman doesn’t deserve disrespect simply because he’s very good at his chosen profession. But what happened, albeit disrespectful of one individual to another, isn’t nearly as blatant or egregious as the random dude on the San Francisco sideline literally clotheslining Seahawks gunner Jeremy Lane. You want a villain? There’s your guy.