The Seahawks were completely dominated in all three phases of the game in the first half. The Texans had 19 first-half first downs to Seattle's four. Nineteen to four. Houston went 4-for-8 on third down, netting 324 yards (to Seattle's 88), including 226 through the air (Seattle = 24), dominated time of possession 18:31 to 11:29, and built up a 20-3 lead.
Nearly half of Seattle's offensive output (88 yards) came on a Marshawn Lynch 43-yard run. Russell Wilson had attempted five passes and completed three. This is domination. The Hawks got nothing done on offense in the first half, and apart from the sweet tip-drill interception, the defense didn't get a whole lot done either, giving up nearly as many points in two quarters as they had in the first three games.
The 2nd half was a completely different story. The offense wasn't exactly stellar, but the defense tightened up. A lot. Here is how Houston's 2nd half and OT drive chart broke down: punt, fumble, punt, punt, interception, punt, punt, punt.
The farthest into Seattle territory the Texans were able to drive to was the 40-yard line. The next snap was Richard Sherman's pick six.
This was a tale of two halves, obviously, Houston dominated the first and Seattle dominated the second. Fittingly, it was tied at the end of regulation. Seattle won the overtime period but it wasn't really pretty for either team. Here are some notes, both good and bad.
The offensive line, obviously.
With three starters on the sideline (two of whom are Pro Bowl/All Pro caliber), I fully expected this line to really struggle against the Texans' fearsome front seven. And they did. The disappointing part for me was that the one guy that I thought might really help out in this game, James Carpenter, seemed to struggle the most. The Texans, from memory, almost never lined J.J. Watt up across from Carpenter and I'm sure this was no accident. Carp's best attribute is his power and playing style is centered around this, and instead of seeing that matchup that I had been looking forward to, the Texans rushed Watt at pretty much everyone else. The one time I do remember seeing Carpenter across from Watt was on the Marshawn Lynch 3rd and 1 following Russell Wilson's slide, and Carpenter was tasked with downblocking on that play - meaning Paul McQuistan got the responsibility of beating Watt to his spot. That didn't happen.
Seattle ended up tilting their protection in Watt's direction (I would guess) most of the time. This meant that Lemuel Jeanpierre would drift with J.R. Sweezy at the snap, and on several occasions, this left Carpenter in space, one-on-one with Antonio Smith. Smith ate him up on at least two occasions, three maybe - and on a fourth, the Texans stunted with Whitney Mercilus and blasted right past Carpenter. The thing I noticed about the plays in which Carpenter was beaten is that he seemed to be leaning forward over his toes and grasping for Smith - this made swim-moves and counters way too easy as Carpenter would lunge forward and end up on the ground or way, way out of position. This type of interior pressure was exactly what I had hoped Carp would eliminate from his side in this game, and that didn't happen.
Overall, as a group, it ended up being pretty much what you'd expect it to be when you cobble a line together to play an elite front seven that blitzes an NFL-high 80% of the time. Chaos.
Now, with the symbiotic relationship between each lineman at play, it's tough to assign the blame on any one player's shoulders. Carpenter got little help from McQuistan (busy with speed rush on the outside) and Jeanpierre (busy helping on Watt) and I wonder if the splits post-snap ended up being a lot wider than Seattle had planned. Spacing, communication, and cooperation is the name of the game for offensive line play, and these things are pretty damn tough when three new guys on the line. Oh, and it looked like, at times, guys didn't know who they were supposed to block, or were late getting there.
One thing I noticed the Texans doing, and I'm not sure if this is a novel concept or whether it's pretty commonplace (probably the latter), was that right before the snap, each defensive lineman would realign one or two steps in one direction, which screws with the protections and assignments and spacing in a zone-blocking scheme. Imagine a run to the right (well, just imagine the 3rd down play where Watt blew through the line to hit Lynch in the backfield).
Right before the snap, when all the protections and responsibilities are set, each defensive linemen slides slightly to their left. By this point, it's too late to change assignments (or it can be confusing as to whom is 'covered up' and whom is 'uncovered'). In the specific example given, LG Carpenter downblocks to his right - the classic zone blocking downblock - and this leaves McQuistan on Watt. McQuistan downblocks too, but is late to get to the correct angle on Watt, so Watt more or less jumps through the LOS unfettered. Who is to blame? Maybe the play-call? Maybe McQuistan was a step slow? Not sure, but that play sure as shit didn't work. Watt is really good, by the way.
All in all, as said, the first half was much, much worse than the second. In the second half, Seattle made some adjustments and moved Russell Wilson around more - bootlegs, moving pockets, sprint outs, etc, and this helped alleviate what was the utter lack of a pocket for much of the first half. Why Seattle only started this in the 2nd half shall remain a mystery, but I'm guessing Darrell Bevell and company wanted to hold those cards close to the vest until later in the game. It also helped that Brian Cushing left at some point in the 2nd half and the Texans finally had to stop using the combination of Watt and Cushing to rain down destruction on Seattle's makeshift unit.
The good news - Seattle still ran the ball pretty well - amassing 179 yards on 30 carries for a 6.0 average. 77 of those yards were by Russell Wilson on designed read option keepers and some scrambles, but nonetheless, Seattle's running backs picked up 5.1 yards per carry.
Throwing the football
That brings me to the passing game. Russell Wilson attempted five passes in the first half.
This is due to several things - one, the protection issues, which have been addressed, and the lack of separation Seattle was able to get from their receivers. Texas has a great secondary, and they blanketed Seattle's wideouts throughout. Generally speaking, it seemed as though Wilson's completions were on swing passes and dumpoffs, and his incompletions came when he tried to fit passes in downfield, only to have them broken up or just miss.
Nonetheless, Wilson did throw a few beautiful passes - the called-back touchdown to Jermaine Kearse being one, and the toe-touch deep out to Doug Baldwin being another example. Obviously, the numbers were pedestrian. The pass game has yet to really get into rhythm. To be totally honest though - and I know I'm a bit of a rationalizer - I am almost glad the pass game isn't really hitting on all cylinders right now. Maybe not glad, per se, but certainly not panicked - we've seen what this offense can do when things start working, and the beginning of the season is the best time to work out the kinks, test some new concepts, open up the playbook, and expand multiplicity while simultaneously keeping a lot of things close to the vest. I'd rather see them struggle now and then hit their groove at the end of the year than to shine now and founder when the games start to really matter.
Ok, that's totally rationalizing, but that's honestly kind of where I am. We're not at Seattle's ceiling, but the Hawks are still getting it done. Get Russell Okung back, get Percy Harvin back, perhaps incorporate Christine Michael into the system, get Derrick Coleman more acclimated, get James Carpenter in shape and not lunging all over the place, get Doug Baldwin more involved, get Sidney Rice more involved, and hell, maybe see what you have from Michael Bowie as a potential starter at right tackle. Right now feels like that seemingly interminable period after buying a new boat where you can't open her up full-throttle without risking major engine damage. For a while, you just have to motor about at 10 MPH and look at the scenery.
Your playmakers making plays
Richard Sherman mentioned it after the game in reference to his pick-six that tied it up at 20-apiece - "your big time players have to make big-time plays" and that's what Seattle did in order to get the win. Russell Wilson's miracle scrambles. Doug Baldwin's absurd toe-touch catch to keep a drive alive. Marshawn Lynch's amazing churning on the ground. Richard Sherman's pick-six. The vastly underrated Steven Hauschka field goal under pressure. At the end of the day, Seattle's 'stars' made the plays they needed to make to put Seattle in a position to win, and a role player in Hauschka did his job to seal it.
It wasn't always looking like this would happen though. At some point in the 3rd quarter, I made the observation on Twitter that Seattle was going to need some 'big-time plays by their big-time players' in this one if they wanted to eek out a win. Richard Sherman had just dropped a sure interception in the endzone and Marshawn Lynch had coughed it up at Seattle's ten yard line. Russell Wilson had only completed a handful of passes. I was not happy about these things.
Oh me of little faith.
The hard hitting D.
Seattle's weak link in this game was at linebacker. K.J. Wright got injured fairly early on and looked a step slow in space, Malcolm Smith looked completely lost in coverage at least two times as Schaub hit tight ends up the seam (including one for a touchdown), and Bobby Wagner was just short of deflecting a pass or two in this one - why? Zone drops and man coverage continue to be an issue for this unit. Houston tight ends combined for 17 targets, of which they made 11 catches for 141 yards with a touchdown.
The vast majority of these catches and yards came against linebacker coverage. It got so bad that late in the game Seattle started going to their dime package, which is relatively rare these days, with Byron Maxwell the sixth defensive back assigned to play man coverage on Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham. Maxwell acquitted himself alright - I wouldn't say he was great but I also wouldn't say he was bad - but overall, the coverage on linebackers remains a concern.
To be honest, I'm not sure how they fix this either. I would look for teams with quality tight ends to continue to attack intermediate zones with their tight ends until Seattle shows they can stop it. I would - I'd rather throw at linebackers than at the LOB.
The defensive line:
Tony McDaniel starts off in his stance about a full foot behind everyone else on the line. Anyone else notice this? What's up with that? Oh, and that's about the only thing I noticed about McDaniel. He somewhat disappeared in this game and I'm racking my brain to try and remember how he's looked in the past couple as well. McDaniel started out very strong - disruptive, powerful, etc, but was out-shined by Clinton McDonald and Brandon Mebane in this one. McDonald is playing mad - I guess he didn't like the whole 'cut and re-sign for way less money' thing, and is looking to earn a second deal.
Here's what you've been waiting for! I'm going to rattle off the list. Not exhaustive.
- Golden Tate is really good on punt returns. I was yelling obscenities at the screen when he fielded back-to-back punts inside the five yard line (the second was actually fielded in THE FUCKING ENDZONE YOU MORON) but Tate did the Tate thing and made me eat my words. He picked up 32 yards on that play to put Seattle at the 31-yard line on their eventual game-winning drive, and I don't think you can underestimate how good Tate has been on returns. Tate is fourth in the NFL among players with more than a couple reps with 12.3 yards per return. He's third in total yards with 172. I don't think even some Seattle fans realize how good and complete of a player Tate can be.
- Brandon Browner had a nice game in coverage, I thought. The Hawks gave up a lot of yards, but Browner had a couple of key plays, including a breakup on Andre Johnson late when the Texans were trying to mount a scoring drive to win the game.
- Cliff Avril showed up in this one, with a sack and a knocked down pass. I am really excited about the Avril addition.
- Clemons doesn't appear to have lost a step after his ACL injury. The Hawks did something they don't normally do and rushed him from the right side - where he beat the Texans' right tackle for a sack. He also had three QB hits. He's disruptive.
- Considering J.J. Watt was wreaking havoc everywhere he went, I thought the right side of the line held up fairly well, particularly in run blocking. I am honestly wondering if Michael Bowie just grabs the starting job and never lets go. It will be interesting to see in a few weeks when Breno returns.
- Russell Wilson's 77 rushing yards were huge - and it's worth pointing out that 50+ yards came on that insane 14-play, 98-yard drive in the 3rd and 4th quarters. This game felt almost exactly like the love child of the Atlanta game and the Bears game from last year. A big fourth quarter comeback on the road at 10 am with Russell Wilson making a bunch of nonsensical shit happen with his legs.
- Have you noticed that at the end of these long-ass, back-breaking 13-, 14- play drives, that once Seattle gets into the redzone, it seems like they always end up just waltzing into the endzone? It's like, by the time Seattle gets all the way down the field, the defense just accepts their fate. In this one, it was a simple toss left to Lynch, where the Texans has lined up incorrectly and had no one within five or ten yards of him. He sauntered in. This is so damn demoralizing to a defense - not just the end result, but the overall punch-you-in-the-mouth knock-down-drag-out drive that strips you of any momentum and spirit you may have had left. So satisfying.
- Marshawn Lynch is amazing. Russell Wilson is amazing. Richard Sherman is amazing. I'm not even saying that as a homer - I mean, Lynch and Sherman are in an elite class at their respective positions and I do believe that Wilson will be at top-5 quarterback at some point in the near future.