Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
What's diagnostic about a 58 point win? Plenty, if you know what to look for.
Let's get something out of the way right now. Arizona is in shambles. I have lived in Arizona (and grew up in St. Louis), so my heart goes out to Larry Fitzgerald, to Cardinals fans, and to the ghost of Roy Green. Around 30 years ago while baby Larry Fitzgerald was still suckling, Roy Green was busy having a burgeoning Hall of Fame career ruined by Bidwell family incompetence. What's that line that ends, "...the second time as farce"?
It will be easy for the pundits and many fans to dismiss this game. "Yeah yeah," they'll say. "Seattle's a nice young team but Arizona just laid down and quit. This was Arkansas versus Alabama." In a game that was over so quickly, few will care to discuss its nuances. But, if we dismiss it because of the score we'll miss some critical lessons in the lifecycle of this young team.
Lesson #1: Arizona's offense has been bad, but Seattle took the Cardinals to a qualitatively different place.
We knew Arizona had the worst offense in the NFL by both advanced and traditional measures. So let's put this game into context. This doesn't make Seattle the '84 Bears, but this was an unusually dominant victory. We will have to wait for the DVOA updates for this week, but I am guessing this game will be in the discussion for the most thoroughly dominant of the DVOA era. Using expected points* here as a quick and dirty measure, this was a -37.39 performance. Wow!
UPDATE on the above point: Per Football Outsiders:
"...The Seahawks come out with the third-highest single-game DVOA rating of all-time (i.e. since 1991). That's pretty remarkable considering that a lot of their dominance was based on fumble recovery, and DVOA is giving less credit for that -- especially for recovering a muffed punt, since muffed punts are almost always recovered by the return team.
Seattle was firing on all three cylinders yesterday: They had an offensive DVOA of 55.5%, defensive DVOA of -68.7%, and special teams DVOA of 16.2%."
So, there you go.
Arizona's worst offensive performances have all been in its most recent games: -26.77 (NYJ), -17.62 (STL), and -25.36 (ATL). So clearly, the wheels have been coming off since the bye week. But, I submit that this performance was not just the continuation of a trend. It was almost 11 expected points better than what the Jets did. For comparison, in Chicago's week five 41-3 beatdown Jacksonville was -26.48. Even Rod Marinelli's 0-16 Lions never had a -30 game.
So, this game was not as much about Arizona as the score and the sad state of the franchise might imply. This does not seem like your typical blowout; not based on what one might have expected based on field position, down, and distance. It may be telling us something about what this Seattle could become.
*From pro-football-reference: Expected points are an estimate of points per play based on down, distance, and yard line. Points given for offense and defense are offensive/defensive plays + penalties on which there was no play (eg, a false start). Special teams are all kicking + punting plays. Points are zeroed out at the ends [sic] of halves.[Expected points are not opponent-adjusted; comparable to Football Outsiders' VOA.]
Lesson #2: This was a "peak" performance, not a new baseline. So, we should adjust for some turnover luck but not as much as you may think.
What set this apart from a garden variety blowout was obviously turnovers and the field position it bestowed. Seattle has not had exceptional luck, good or bad, in recovering fumbles this season. So, the multiple fumble recoveries seem more fluky than repeatable. (The Malcolm Smith touchdown was just weird. I hadn't seen a kicked ball touchdown like that since Matt Davison broke my heart.)
However, as I noted in my preview interceptions were a different story. Based on how well they play the ball, Seattle seemed due and Arizona was the right opponent to get healthy. At the same time the Cardinals generate lots of interceptions while Russell Wilson is probably due an interception correction game (that may yet come). I didn't any kind of way predict four interceptions as much as say Seattle's defense gets hands on enough passes to have a LOT more interceptions. That part is repeatable.
Lesson #3: As the offense matures Bevell looks a lot smarter.
Bevell probably takes more than his fair share of grief from fans, as do pretty much all playcallers. That comes with the job. It is worth noting, though, that Seattle's last negative expected points offensive game was at San Francisco--and there have only been four. So, legitimate gripes with this play or that play notwithstanding, this hasn't been a bad offense for quite some time. In fact, Bevell has X'd and O'd his ass off in the past two weeks against some STOUT defenses.
The zone read package versus Chicago took advantage of their aggressive ends. We had scarcely seen that play since Carolina. Against Arizona he put in an Anthony McCoy package for taking shots downfield (rather than relying on Rice and Tate). We have been taking most of those shots with Miller, but had not seen McCoy go down the field really since Dallas. Nice. Turnovers aside, the first and second touchdown drives--when it was still a game--were 85 and 73 yards. Arizona's defense was 4th in DVOA (2nd against the pass) against the 6th toughest schedule.
Maybe this offense has just needed some time to bake.
The most recurrent (and perhaps legitimate) critique of Bevell in this forum is that he is seemingly slow to recognize what's working and whom. At the risk of the "appeal to authority" fallacy, I think fans are much quicker to observe "obvious" trends in performance, then declare what's working, where coaches only observe noise. Coaches observe far more data points, and sometimes stubbornly so, want to see consistency before rewarding players with playing time.
Coaches are not always correct in their conclusions, obviously, fans frequently have little appreciation or patience for the time it takes people and teams to mature. Maturation with teams is like it is with anything else. It takes as long as it takes. You can't know a priori how long it will take for a coordinator and the talent on hand to mesh. This team is built to run. We know it can do that. But it has taken twelve games really to figure out who else can do what else consistently. In that sense, over the past few weeks I think we've seen the team grow and Bevell grow with it.