Highlights from the latest edition of "Cold Hard Facts" with John Clayton on 710 ESPN Seattle:
Emphasizing illegal contact. The biggest point of emphasis for NFL officials in 2014 will be the enforcement of illegal contact and defensive holding. That was the word from Mike Pereira, the former vice president of officiating for the NFL, who tweeted several developments from the league's officiating clinic over the weekend. Such an emphasis would seem to significantly affect a team like the Seahawks, whose cornerbacks play with a physical style that often straddles the line between acceptable and illegal. Curiously, illegal contact in particular hasn't been much of an issue for Seattle, though that could change with an increased emphasis.
"Illegal contacts have been dropping steadily to the point where there were only like 38 flags last year and the Seahawks have not had an illegal contact in two years," Clayton said.
There's an important distinction to draw here between illegal contact and pass interference. The former is a 5-yard penalty for contact that occurs before the pass is thrown and beyond 5 yards from the line of scrimmage. According to Clayton, Seattle was among the league leaders last season in pass interference and defensive holding penalties.
Wilson injured last year? Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson hasn't missed a game in his two NFL seasons, and his durability was especially notable as he absorbed a considerable amount of contact during stretches of last year when Seattle's offensive line was playing without multiple starters. Two games in particular stood out: Seattle's wins over St. Louis in Week 8 and Tampa Bay in Week 9. After the latter, coach Pete Carroll said Wilson got "banged up." Clayton thinks it may have been more severe.
"I contend that in that Tampa Bay game, I think he separated his shoulder to some degree," Clayton said. "Maybe it was a minor separation, but I contend that he had something close to a separation. Maybe it was just an AC joint or something like that in that Tampa Bay game because he really took a tough hit. ... But the one thing with Russell, you're never going to hear it. He'll never say it."
Seahawks' bye week. Danny O'Neil wrote back in April that the Seahawks will need to have a strong finish in 2014 with a second-half schedule that on paper appears to be extremely tough. Six of Seattle's final seven games will be against teams that won at least 10 games last season. Five of those games are against NFC West teams, which have become known for their exceedingly physical defenses. Clayton discussed another challenging aspect of Seattle's schedule.
"The difficulty they have this year is that the bye week is Week 4. That means you have to go all the way through the final 13 games of the season without a break, and that is going to be tough, particularly when the games are going to get more physical at the end of the year," he said.
Seattle's bye weeks the last two seasons have come later than Week 10.