"How big? This big."
For the first time since weeks six and seven of 2010, the Hawks have won back-to-back regular season games. Can you believe that?
At that time, the Hawks were 4-2, had a dominant run defense, and a below-average offense. Still, that run defense was something special and the most rushing yards the Hawks allowed in their first five games of 2010 was 89 to the Chargers.
In that week seven victory over the Cardinals, Seattle allowed 113 yards on the ground but forced five turnovers and won 22-10.
Then naughty injuries happened to the defensive line to Red Bryant and Brandon Mebane and Seattle gave up over 200 yards on the ground three different times from week eight forward (and 197 yards to the Giants) and the Seahawks lost seven of their final ten games. They also only forced nine turnovers in the final ten games after forcing thirteen in their first six.
The Hawks went from average to bad and a big part of that reason was their inability to stop the run. A strength was now a weakness and one that was exposed early and often. Seattle lost all seven of those games in blowout fashion, but wins over three terrible teams (Carolina, Arizona, and St. Louis) allowed the Hawks to make history and the playoffs.
It was exciting (the playoff game) and interesting, but Seattle stunk without Mebane and Red.
Fast forward to present day and the Seahawks find themselves with that strength again. Over the last two games, Ray Rice and Steven Jackson were unable to run against the defense and the Hawks pulled off an upset win followed by a divisional road win that shows that when the team is healthy on defense and able to play the type of game they want to play, they don't deserve to be close to the bottom of any "Power Rankings."
Are they a single player (a quarterback perhaps) away from being an elite team?
No. That's a little ridiculous. It's okay to laugh Jerry.
What's the good news?
You may not want to take a whole lot away from a dominating defensive performance against the Rams, arguably the worst offense in the NFL, but don't ignore the whole damn thing either. Steven Jackson just had his worst game of the year, gaining close to 50% of his yards on a 19-yard meaningless carry on 3rd and 25.
The Rams scored their only points of the game when they started on the Seahawks 27 yard line. Their longest drive was 8 plays for 42 yards. They had four drives go for 0 or negative yardage (not including the end-of-game knee by Sam Bradford.) The only team to shut down the Rams as badly as we did was the Washington Redskins in week four, but at least the Skins were 3-1 then and they've suffered a similar collapse this season as Seattle did last season.
Seattle has a lot of work to do in the offseason in order to turn the team into a real Super Bowl contender, but they've only got to do a few things in order to turn into an above-average playoff contender. Especially since we've seen just how far the divide is between us and St. Louis.
With three upcoming home games against teams with losing records, that divide could get even greater.
Here is what I saw during the game, what I thought about it, and why I do feel pretty positively about where this team is going.
"Sidney Rice: QBOTF"
So we had our quarterback of the future on the team all along and didn't know it.
Whether it was aided by trickery or not, let's give Sidney Rice some credit on his 55-yard strike to Mike Williams. I was impressed that he was able to throw the ball that deep and with some accuracy. Typically when you ask a receiver or a running back to throw the ball further than 10 yards it becomes a scary duck of a pass, but this was a no-doubter that Williams was able to come down with and it seemed to set the tone much like what the Hawks did to the Panthers in the 2005 NFC Championship game.
Also like that game, the Hawks were playing for a chance to go to the Super Bowl last night. If you consider it the start of a 10-game winning streak.
"Tarvaris Jackson: NOT the QBOTF"
At this point in the year, you can kind of consider moments like this to be hilarious rather than infuriating. The Hawks aren't playing for anything but pride and respect really and they want to make strides towards 2012. When Jackson threw an interception on the very next play, it was just a reminder that Jackson is not a stride towards 2012.
Don't get me wrong, I'm glad that he's here and that he'll probably be here next year as an experienced QB to keep the seat warm, but this was not his best game. In fact, it felt like one of his worst as a Seahawk. According to Advanced NFL Stats, he posted his lowest WPA since week three against Arizona.
Jackson was not very accurate, missed some guys, threw two interceptions, and averaged 6.1 yards per pass attempt. It's a good thing the Seahawks were playing the Rams.
"Tarvaris Jackson: NOT the QBOTP"
After throwing interceptions on each of his first two attempts of the game and putting the Rams at the Hawks 27 yard line, it could be argued that Jackson iss a scary thought as Quarterback of the Present.
Still early, still time to make up for it.
"Brandon Lloyd TD. Rams 7, Seahawks 0"
Two plays later, Bradford threw his prettiest ball of the day and Lloyd got behind Richard Sherman to make the easy touchdown grab.
It was not looking great that we just gave the Rams 7 points off of the bat, because that's exactly how you lose to teams that you should be better than. Any more mistakes and who knew if our offense would be good enough to mount a comeback.
Luckily, Brandon Lloyd is still Brandon Lloyd. He was targeted 15 times and caught 5 of them for 67 yards. Sherman lost him on this one, but he wasn't going to lose him very often for the rest of the day.
"Punt blocked. Worst possible start?"
Okay, when this happened my eyes were averted to another game for a moment and when I looked back at the replay I though the punt was full on blocked by Quinn. But it was just deflected, as you know, so luckily it still went 30 yards. If he gets a little bit more of it, the Rams are doing no worse than starting deep in Hawks territory.
But Jon Ryan was all like "WHAT?! WHAT?! WHAT?! WHAT SON?! YEAH SON! YEAH SON! YEAH SON!" because in my head Jon Ryan talks like a troubled teen on Maury Povich that's headed to boot camp. (Get it? Boot Camp...)
"Richard Sherman - 3rd best completion % against in the NFL"
This graphic showed on the screen. This graphic makes me happy. We've been hearing it more and more as the season goes along, but Sherman has been effective. He's been an incredible find from Stanford. We can't Suck for Luck because we've got two of his old teammates helping us win games, so that's been a nice compromise.
The Rams averaged 4.8 yards gained per drive on their next 5 drives.
"Great return by Leon Washington to midfield"
The Rams punted the ball away and Washington returned it to the Hawks 19 yard line, but the Rams were called for a 5 yard penalty and had to do it over.
On the do-over, Leon returned it 37 yards to the Hawks 49 yard line.
Unfortunately after a really nice play on first down to Zach Miller to get to the Rams 41, there was a false start penalty on McQuistan and Tarvaris was sacked twice to bring the ball all the way back to the Seattle 36.
The good news though, is that this was a game where field position would mean a lot. Seattle started at the 49 and not the 19, so that could still help them down the line if they could just stop the Rams from moving the ball, which was not a problem.
Ryan pinned them at the 9 and then penalties pushed St. Louis to their own 6 when they punted. Leon returned the punt 25 yards to the St. Louis 40 and it was like all that bad stuff in between could be forgotten and the Hawks had another chance.
At the time it seemd like the Hawks really shot themselves in the foot, and it could have gotten bad, but instead the defense came up big and that's why winning the field position battle is so important for this team.
"Pass caught by Rice, but accurate throw would have been nice."
A gain of 12 on second down, but Rice was wide open and had to stretch out and fall down to catch this pass. If he's hit in stride, who knows.
"TD SIDNEY RICE!! 7-7"
Four plays later, it wouldn't matter and the Hawks tied the game up with Rice. Jackson isn't really a part of our future, except perhaps in a backup capacity. Rice, however, is a big part of our future.
"LeRoy Hill w/ a big sack"
Hill sacks Bradford for a loss of nine. The Hawks haven't been good at getting to the QB this year, and they got to Sam Bradford 5 times, 3 of those by Chris Clemons.
It was cool, but you can't take too much away from it. Not against this QB and this line.
"Personal foul Russell Okung. Another sack. Another good drive killed."
Hawks looking to take the lead had the ball at the St. Louis 27 after a 15-yard strike to Doug Baldwin. Then a 15-yard penalty and an 8 yard loss on a sack made it 3rd and 32 and the Hawks eventually punted it away.
Still, wait for your opportunity. The Rams were pinned at their own 9 again.
"Correctly overturned Lloyd catch"
The Rams convertd a 3rd and 13 with time running down in the first half. Luckily, we have challenge flags now and the call was overturned, otherwise the Hawks may have gone into the half tied or losing and then kicking off to start the second half.
The Hawks offense showed life after the punt, with big gains by Justin Forsett, Doug Baldwin, and Marshawn Lynch. Mike Williams nearly came down with a great touchdown catch but was unable to reel it in. After a pass interference call put the ball at the Rams 1, Pete Carroll decided not to take chances this time and kick the field goal.
I think the Hawks offense is good enough now with Lynch to potentially score a touchdown here, but who cares? Take the lead, you're playing the Rams. It would be different if Seattle was at San Francisco or something. This is a good time to take the points.
"Steven Jackson lining up wide a lot"
The Rams tried to mix things up by going to a No Huddle offense, putting Bradford in shotgun, and Jackson lining up as a WR, since he wasn't doing much as a RB yesterday.
The Rams actually gained 42 yards, their longest drive of the day, but ultimately punted in Seahawks territory. That was their best chance probably.
"FUMBLE! Chris Clemons FF!"
Clemons was a beast all day long, even if it was because the Rams couldn't stop any good pass rusher right now, it was Clemons lucky day then I guess.
After the Hawks punted and then the Rams got the ball back at their own 33, on 2nd down, Clemons blew in the backfield and popped the ball out of Bradfords hands with ease on a sack. Clinton McDonald tried to run with the fumble, but I'm not sure why. He fumbled it too, but luckily Roy Lewis made the second fumble recovery of the play and the Hawks had the ball at the St Louis 25.
"Opportunity to separate now"
It might as well be now or never. Up 10-7, the Hawks could go up two scores if they can just get 25 yards here, and it seemed unlikely that the Rams would be able to easily score 10 more points. They could, of course, but not easily.
"LYNCH TD! 6 IN A ROW!"
Lynch scores for the sixth straight game. His yards per carry might not seem like a lot, but he's been so valuable to Seattle this season by doing something the Hawks have had a hard time doing at all in the last few years: scoring in the red zone, specifically at the goal line.
When he runs, he pushes hard for that extra yard. A gain of 3 compared to a gain of 4 might not seem like a lot, but it is important and it's clearly very important to Lynch. Maybe he's doing it for a contract. I don't know, and as of right now, I don't care. He's been the MVP of the offense.
"Can Rams score 10 points in a quarter? Especially with Jackson stopped?"
Sorry St. Louis, but I pretty much declared this game "over" when the Hawks went up 10 and then the Rams punted on their next possession.
The Rams scored 13 points or less in seven of their first nine games of the season. Other than 31 points against the Saints, their season high is 16. I wasn't expecting the Rams to put up 10 points or more in a single quarter, against a defense that had removed Steven Jackson from being a factor in the game.
"Leon muffed punt. Maxwell tries to pick it up. Lucky."
The Rams punted again with eight minutes remaining and Leon muffed the kick. Oddly, Byron Maxwell tried to pick it up and was immediately hammered by the Rams and lucky to hold onto the ball. The Hawks almost opened the door again by giving the Rams the ball on the Seattle 15, but they got lucky.
You can't be that risky when you're not good enough to ensure a victory, especially on the road.
"WOOOO!!! INT RED BRYANT!!"
In the same game that Sidney Rice threw a 55-yard bomb, Red Bryant made an interception on a deflected pass. That was pretty cool and the big fella deserved it after the huge role he's played on defense this year. We absolutely can not lose Bryant to free agency.
He's an interception machine.
"Forsett with a 1-shoe TD. 24-7"
Forsett loses a shoe and then runs 22 yards for a TD. I'm not sure what his future on this team is but it's cool that he still has a part right now and he's still favorable as a change-of-pace back.
"Clemons another FF"
At this point I'm not even all-capsing big plays. It's just like "oh yeah, ho hum." and the Hawks closed out the game 24-7.
Maybe you could downplay this dominating win by saying "It's only against the Rams" but the good news is that we are this much better than the Rams.
Going into the season with Sam Bradford, Steven Jackson, Chris Long, Jason Smith, and Rodger Saffold, it seemed that the Rams were a team on it's way up. Maybe the divisional favorite for 2011 and potentially could grow together as a team that competes for the division every year.
That hasn't happened and the Seahawks should be grateful for it. Right now, they can't protect Bradford, and their best wide receiver is on the wrong side of 30 and catches about 40% of his targets. Jackson isn't getting any younger and their offensive line isn't getting any healthier. The Rams are quite a few more pieces away from the playoffs than the Seahawks are.
Maybe the Rams draft a number one wide receiver like Justin Blackmon of Oklahoma State and become really annoying to defend, but as of now they're really delightful to watch the Hawks play.
Pete Carroll and John Schneider might not have rebuilt in the traditional way, opting to get a quarterback last and build up the offensive line with top draft picks, while trying to find diamonds in the rough on the defensive line and secondary. Luckily, Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor look like huge parts of the future of this team and they were found later in the draft. Doug Baldwin wasn't found in the draft at all.
Ownership has thus far built a young, inconsistent, mediocre team with loads of potential at nearly every position except for quarterback. There are still holes to fill on the right side of the offensive line, in the middle of the defensive line, at defensive end, and potentially at linebacker and hopefully finding more depth at cornerback just in case.
That feels like it's as close as we've been to being a legitimate playoff team since 2006. That's one really good draft and free agency period from being an above-average wild card contender.
That's also something that seems like after yesterday that the Rams (and Cardinals for that matter) are far away from being.
That's what I learned yesterday.