Seahawks beat Saints: Quick thoughts on Seattle's win

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

I thought that taking a look at snap counts would be a good starting point for me, so as to jot down some notes on the Seahawks' win over the Saints on Monday Night. So that's what I'll be doing here. How's that for an intro? I get really sick of writing ledes. First up,

The offense:

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Nothing too notable on the offensive line in terms of snap counts. The Seahawks continued their platoon at the left guard position with Paul McQuistan 'starting' and getting 40 snaps, then alternating with James Carpenter series-by-series. Carp got 34 snaps. Both guys played well, and I'll get to that in a minute.

Otherwise, business as usual as Breno, Okung, and Max played every snap, and J.R. Sweezy played all but one. Lemuel Jeanpierre and Alvin Bailey each got two snaps late in the game, as the Seahawks tried out their super-badass 8OL jumbo personnel grouping and formation. Guard J.R. Sweezy aligned as the fullback for Robert Turbin, and the offensive line from left to right went like this: Alvin Bailey, Russell Okung, James Carpenter, Max Unger, Paul McQuistan, Breno Giacomini, Lemuel Jeanpierre, and finished with TE Zach Miller.

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Seattle first went to this personnel grouping and formation with 5:06 left in the game, leading 34-7 and looking to run the clock out on the game. They had a 3rd and 1 just past midfield, so Tom Cable dialed up some muscle - the first attempt was stuffed, but the second, on fourth down and nearly the identical play, got them two yards and a first down. You have to think this is just demoralizing for an opposing defense. All you want to get off the field so your offense can get back out there and make it respectable, you've just stuffed a third and short, then you have to come back and do it again - and fail.

Pete Carroll has always said that he loves ending the game in the victory formation and while they didn't quite do that in this drive (they gave it back to New Orleans about three minutes later after failing on a fourth and 7 from the 41), the possession did chew up almost eight minutes of the fourth quarter.

As for the competition at left guard between James Carpenter and Paul McQuistan:

I would agree. Carpenter's play over the last few games has been promising, particularly compared to the early parts of the year, and it's good to see some consistent play from the 3rd year guard. Obviously, as a Seattle first round pick in 2011, the hope would be that he'd at worst become a long-term starter for you, and he's on his way to doing that if he can stay healthy (assuming they decide to re-sign him after next year). You can't completely miss on many first round picks and hope to be a top team in the NFL long-term (look at how many first round picks are playing for San Francisco right now, by the way), so I've been paying extremely close attention to Carpenter all year. It's been a mix of excitement and disappointment, but like 2012 first-rounder Bruce Irvin, I'm optimistic about long-term prospects. Carp is still only 24, by the way.

On to other positions.

Of the four active receivers this week, Jermaine Kearse got 55 snaps and Doug Baldwin got 53; Golden Tate was right behind them with 49. Ricardo Lockette got 10 snaps and had a nice 33 yard catch down the sideline on a redline throw. Jermaine Kearse dropped what could have been a touchdown pass but acquitted himself well otherwise - including a nice back-shoulder grab from Wilson later in the game on a third down.

I can't really overstate how well Wilson played, by the way, and really, that deserves a whole other post. 22 of 30 for 310 yards and 3 touchdowns, not forgetting the dropped Kearse touchdown pass that could have been #4. Wilson threw for 10.3 yards per attempt and cool 14.1 yards per completion (!!). Look at the averages for his receiving targets.

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Oh, and Russell also rushed for a team-high 47 yards on 8 attempts (5.9 YPC).

Speaking of rushing: Marshawn Lynch saw the bulk of the time at running back, logging 51 snaps to Robert Turbin's 17. Turbin broke out one nice 12-yard run after a nifty spin move, but was mostly boring the rest of the time. Turbin ended up with 34 yards on 11 carries.

Interestingly, Derrick Coleman returned to action, spelling Michael Robinson (19 snaps) at fullback and seeing 13 snaps. Coleman made a heads up play on a tip-drill and scored a touchdown late. For Mike Rob's part, I thought he had a nice game, laid a few devastating lead blocks, and continues to be a nice mid-season re-addition to the offense.

The Seahawks' decision to continue to carry two fullbacks is pretty interesting, by the way, and they're one of maybe two or three teams (max?) that do so. Ultimately, I think they view Coleman as a hybrid running back/fullback, so on gameday, when they make Christine Michael inactive, Coleman serves as Turbo's backup, providing some depth and versatility there. I am not sure they view Robinson in the same light, as a guy that could carry the load as a true running back if Lynch and Turbin were hurt. Coleman is also a pretty big part of special teams when healthy.

At tight end, Zach Miller was a huge factor again - logging 61 snaps. Miller had five catches for 86 yards to lead the Hawks, and Luke Willson played 17 snaps in spot duty and multi-tight-end sets.

The Defense:

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As incredibly efficient and awesome as the offense was in this game, the defense was better, holding one of the league's best quarterbacks in check all day. The Saints' vaunted and high-octane offense had 104 total yards at one point late in the 3rd quarter (I pick out this number only because I tweeted it out at the time and was astonished by it), and only pushed their total net yardage to 188 in late-third and then fourth quarter garbage time. Brees finished with 147 yards on 38 attempts, or 3.9 YPA. Staggering. For perspective: Drew Brees had passed for 200+ yards in 43 straight games, two games shy of the all-time NFL record.

In my mind, the defensive game ball could have gone to Byron Maxwell, who rose up over the suspension noise of the past two weeks and played absolutely lights out in his 57 snaps. He had two big-time pass breakups and was consistent and sound. His style is distinctly different than that of Brandon Browner - he usually bails at the snap and plays most of the time with his eyes in toward the quarterback, almost strafing sideways downfield, ready to pounce on routes and break up passes.

He plays fast, balanced, somewhat physical, and smart - you can tell he is solid at route recognition and while his off-coverage style allows for some quick, in-breaking slant routes to present themselves, his omnipresence down the sideline deterred Brees from throwing his direction all that much (only three times, per Pro Football Focus). He only surrendered one catch. Maxwell has excellent ball skills too, consistently getting a hand in passing lanes, breaking up passes by whipping arms, and seeing the pass before it gets there in order to make plays.

From my vantage point in close to the action, it was pretty cool to see the nearly-field level point of view in Maxwell's direction. Obviously, I wasn't seeing what Brees was seeing exactly, but when I zeroed in on Maxwell as the Saints offense went down the field past me, Maxwell was always just 'right there' with the streaking receiver downfield. Too close for comfort for Brees, and with the inward looking style Maxy was playing with, it makes throwing a jump ball or fade really, really tough, because he, as the corner, has eyes on the ball way before the receiver.

Regardless, was just really impressed with his play.

Across from Maxwell, Richard Sherman played 56 snaps and had himself another hell of a game. Brees tested Sherman deep several times (perhaps conversely, because of Sherman's press-trail style that leaves his back to the action), but as we've known for some time, there's almost no corner in the NFL that plays the sideline bomb better. Getting to see Sherman do the 'he's crazy' finger-around-his-ear-spin on more than one occasion were some of the highlights of this game.

Jeremy Lane, for his part, saw 32 snaps and played very well, from what I could see, and he made an absolutely crucial, sustained, special-teams-experience-aided downfield block on that Michael Bennett return touchdown.

Overall, the LOB was very, very good again.

Oh, and just as an aside - when the defense was on the field in between plays and during TV timeouts, I kid you not, they would all start dancing to the music. Like, all of them. I couldn't help but burst out laughing at the absolute absurdity of the whole scene as the Saints players all just stood there watching Seattle's defense get after it, but it did work to get me and the rest of the crowd insanely fired up.

The closest comparison I can think of is that amped up feeling you would get when you'd see Leon Washington bobbing his head prior to a kickoff, which makes you yourself want to dance, except the whole defense was doing that and motioning in the direction of each side of the stadium, getting people out of their seats to Get Outta Their Minds.

It was this weird, electric, concert-style ecstatic thing that you had to be present for to appreciate. This was our team, in our house, under the primetime bright-lights and cold-ass rain, straight dominating one of the best offenses in the NFL in front of the whole nation and goddamn it, it makes me want to dance. Literally one of the best memories from a sporting event I've ever had and it was between plays. It cracked me up and gave me goosebumps at the same time. Weird.

Anyway. So yeah, the defense played well.

A few more standouts in my mind were Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett, again, and I keep coming back to this but holy crap, John Schneider struck gold with both of these signings. Avril's strip/sack thing, which led to Bennett's touchdown, got the rout going, and there was no shutting people up after that. Brees was under pressure the whole game and while the sack total didn't look awesome, (only 1), Brees was hit as he was throwing at least three or four times, and was forced to rush passes and move around in the pocket constantly. Brandon Mebane was a force, the McD brothers were solid, Chris Clemons was active and disruptive, and Red Bryant was his normal inspirational leader.

Seattle was determined to stop the run, as I had suspected, because that's their goal in every single game, and somewhat counterintuitively, played with Kam Chancellor up in the box despite Drew Brees' greatness in throwing the ball. Chancellor had a very nice game overall, but one play that literally made me gasp while watching the replay saw Bam Bam repeat his Eric Winston-flattening from a few weeks earlier to Saints FB Jed Collins. Collins, lead blocking on a run, tried to set the edge for his running back and Kam shouldered him so hard that he literally buckled and crumpled into the ground like an out-on-his-feet boxer.

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He didn't make the stop there. But hot damn. Kam's physical presence was known all game. The Hawks held the Saints to 44 yards rushing on 17 attempts - for 2.6 YPC - and total domination in that area, plus a healthy lead, and the pass rush was able to pin back their ears and get after Brees. Carroll has said that he wants to make an opposing team one-dimensional. They did that on Monday. You could argue the Saints were ultimately zero-dimensional - and I'm not even trying to pile on to New Orleans, who, I'm sure, will bounce back and continue to score a lot points this year - it was just that dominant of a performance by Seattle's defense. I mean, really, it's knowing how good New Orleans is on offense that made this game so sweet.

Of course, I couldn't talk about this defensive effort without mentioning the linebacker corps, because above all else they might've been the real story. My plan is to dedicate my mothership post to that on Friday. So, stay tuned.

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