My first and strongest impression of this game was that this is the type of grudge match that we should start to expect almost every time for NFC West divisional matchups going forward. Gone are the days of two to four 'gimme' games each year within the division. Much like the the Browns and Bengals must feel each year having to face the Ravens and Steelers so damn often, divisional matchups going forward are going to be hard-fough, defensive slugfests - emotional and unpredictable. The 49ers have, arguably, the best defense in the NFL - and they showed that today by shutting down Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in their own building, the Rams have an up-and-coming unit that picked off Matt Stafford three times today and helped St. Louis push the Lions to the brink before losing a close one, and the Cardinals have a vastly underrated and talented defensive group that gave the Seahawks fits all day with exotic pressure schemes and multiple pre-snap looks and movement.
The Seahawks' offensive line had a tough time protecting Russell Wilson, especially on the interior - which is something that we've talked about here as being absolutely essential for a 5'11 quarterback, and notched 3 sacks, 7 quarterback hits, and three tackles for a loss. The line, predictably, had their hands full with DT Darnell Dockett and DE Calais Campbell, and creative and effective blitzing and stunting allowed LB Paris Lenon to get home twice and LB Daryl Washington to add another sack. Russell Okung had a tough game, getting called for three false starts, I believe, but probably should have had more like four or five of those penalties. He was hobbled early, and left the game late with what's being called a knee injury. Hopefully it's nothing serious.
Wilson, in general, rarely had much time to throw and the offense looked out of sync most of the afternoon. Wilson threw high several times, another concern we've had here during the preseason, and left the pocket early instead of climbing up into it on at least one critical play in the first half.
That said, considering the amount of pressure Russell Wilson saw in this one and the Seahawks' inability to really establish a run game, and consequently play action and misdirection bootlegs nor waggles, I actually thought he performed fairly well. I know that the clouds of controversy are visible in the distance and should be perpetuated greatly on the airwaves tomorrow, but when you dial back some of the expectations that had been thrown around lately for Wilson, and start to realize he was a rookie making his first start, - again, against an underrated defense, in my opinion - things look a little less bleak.
Brandon Weeden passed for 118 yards on 12 of 35 passing (34%) with no touchdowns and four interceptions as the Browns somehow only lost by one point, 17-16, to the Philadelphia Eagles. Andrew Luck passed for 309 yards on 23/45 passing (51%), with one score and three picks as the Colts got routed by the Bears. Ryan Tannehill passed for 219 yards on 20 of 36 passing (56%) for zero touchdowns and three interceptions as the Dolphins were blown out by the Texans. Robert Griffin was the outlier of the group, finishing with 320 yards passing on 19/26 passing and two touchdowns, but you get the point. This rookie group of starting quarterbacks, outside of RGIII, looked like rookies. I'm not making excuses for Russell Wilson, who finished 18 of 34 for 153 yards with one pick (on a quasi-hail mary to end the half) and one touchdown -- I'm simply putting things into perspective. To expect explosive plays, exceedingly flawless passing and high-level footwork and chemistry, timing, and anticipation with receivers would be a bit optimistic.
Wilson, despite the protection breakdowns, excessive penalties, and overall sloppy play by the offense, helped lead the Seahawks down to the Arizona redzone with under a minute left with the opportunity to win the game. Here's a synopsis of how it played out...
4-6-ARZ 27 (:59) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass incomplete deep right to S.Rice. - PENALTY on ARZ-P.Peterson, Defensive Pass Interference, 14 yards, enforced at ARZ 27 - No Play. This pass could have been caught -- hit Rice's hands as he was being held by Peterson. Tough play no doubt, I'm not calling it a 'drop' by any means, but it was catchable, and would have been a probable game-winning touchdown.
1-10-ARZ 13 (:52) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass incomplete short left to B.Edwards (M.Adams). No chance for Edwards on this one, Wilson lofted it way too high.
2-10-ARZ 13 (:47) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass incomplete short middle to D.Baldwin (M.Adams). Ball could have been caught. Would have been an amazing, Santonio Holmes, diving heroic catch, but it hit him in the hands. Baldwin couldn't come up with it.
3-10-ARZ 13 (:42) (Shotgun) R.Wilson pass incomplete short right to B.Edwards. PENALTY on ARZ-W.Gay, Defensive Pass Interference, 7 yards, enforced at ARZ 13 - No Play. Penalty extends the drive.
1-6-ARZ 6 (:38) M.Lynch up the middle to ARZ 4 for 2 yards (O.Schofield).
Timeout #3 by SEA at 00:30. - I don't even want to talk about this weird little series of events.
2-4-ARZ 4 (:30) R.Wilson pass incomplete short right to S.Rice (P.Peterson). Bad throw by Wilson here. Underthrown, not high enough, could have been picked. Got lucky.
3-4-ARZ 4 (:25) R.Wilson pass incomplete short right to C.Martin (M.Adams). Tough play for Martin here to make. Wilson maybe lofts the ball a little too much for him and Martin had to adjust with the ball in the air and turn his hips in flight. However, it hit him in both his hands. Catchable, albeit high degree of difficulty.
4-4-ARZ 4 (:21) R.Wilson pass incomplete short right to B.Edwards. Hit Edwards in his hands on a quick slant. Was a tough play, under tight coverage, but a play Edwards could have made.
I mean, what do you say about this? Had one of those four passes to either Rice, Baldwin, Martin, Edwards, respectively, been caught, the collective NFL fan/media dialogue would be talking about Russell Wilson: the clutch fourth quarter miracle maker. But none were caught, so now we'll probably be stuck with coaching staff second-guessing and possible calls for Matt Flynn to take over (not here, necessarily, but just in general). Either way, I may be going agasint the grain perhaps, but I was encouraged by Wilson's play and I expect him to clean up some things and improve as he gets more comfortable with his receivers and in the offense.
Now, let's talk about the rest of the game. The first concern I have was the lack of a pass rush, particularly in the first half. The Seahawks managed only one sack (though, really, Chris Clemons should have had another, but it was called an incomplete pass), and only five quarterback hits, against a Cardinals team that was starting a rookie at right tackle and a guy with four NFL starts (back in '07) at left tackle. At the end of the day, I had hoped for better.
The edge pressure wasn't what you'd like to have seen against those odds, and Bruce Irvin was a non-factor. However, the Seahawks did dial up the pressure in the second half and it created more problems for the Cardinals, particularly in the 3rd quarter, where John Skelton just couldn't get anything done -- at one point late in the quarter, I saw someone write on twitter that he was 1-for-7 with 3 yards passing and a pick.
Despite Richard Sherman's sick toe-touch interception on Skelton in the third quarter, I'd have to give the defensive game ball to Brandon Mebane. Mebane had himself a hell of a game, and I cannot wait to go back and watch it again because he was seemingly in the backfield on every snap. He forced a fumble as well.
I thought that Jason Jones played well on the interior as well, showing quick jump off on the snap and an ability to disrupt the pocket. Chris Clemons looked good off the edge on several plays, and his closing speed on John Skelton aided in Richard Sherman's pick as Skelton rushed his throwaway.
Overall, the Hawks defense was stingy all night - holding the Cardinals to 43 yards rushing on 2.2 yards per carry (27 yards to their running backs), and a normally pretty encouraging 210 yards passing on the day. Larry Fitzgerald was relatively quiet, finishing with just 4 catches for 63 yards on 11 targets. The Seahawks won the time-of-possession battle handily (33:34 - 26: 26)- running 70 plays to the Cardinals 57, rushed for 115 yards, and were even on the turnover ratio. While they'd have liked to win the turnover battle, this equation is a part of the Seahawks offensive identity and on paper, and in reality, they executed it well enough to put themselves in a position to win. They just came up a bit short, though much credit should and does go to this Cardinals team, who made an impressive stand to end the game.
Both offenses had 18 first downs; the Seahawks finished with 254 yards of total offense to the Cardinals' 253. The Seahawks racked up 13 penalties for a loss of 90 yards, but were balanced out by the Cardinals ineptness there too, who collected 10 penalties for a loss of 103 yards.
Leon Washington's excellence in the return game, especially in the second half, helped turn the momentum in Seattle's favor and was nearly enough to keep them in the win column, but the offense just couldn't quite get it done. Washington had a 52-yard punt return to go along with an 82-yard kick return that really cements his place on the roster as a return specialist, and should possibly make those that had hoped for a possible trade change their tune.
It's a depressing loss, and in some weird sense of irony, John Skelton's injury might have been a blessing in disguise for the Cardinals, as Kevin Kolb came on for one drive and looked nearly flawless, leading the Cardinals on an 11-play, 80-yard drive that ended in an Andre Roberts touchdown that put the Bird Gang up for good. But, for me anyway, many of the issues are coachable and scheme manageable, particularly with protection on offense and the pressure packages on defense, and some of the sluggishness on the part of the offense can and should be attributable to the fact that this was Russell Wilson's first NFL start. At this point, I'm not panicking. Obviously, we'll have a ton more for you here at the site this week, but those are my quick reaction thoughts on the game.