I've awaited this game. If Seattle loses today, they are a historic collapse from elimination. If they win, a mutated, many-crutched hope emerges; A reflection of desolation into almost impossible desire. That which is sweeter than 13-3 or home field throughout: That miraculous, refuse to lose, obsessive, contagious, consuming passion of pulling for a team that doesn't have a chance but ain't out of it yet!
But to get there, Seattle must first beat a better team. How much better? Not as much as you might think.
Football Outsiders hearts Arizona, and though they don't produce public win probabilities, they see a mismatch:
Advanced Football Stats sees Seattle's most winnable matchup in weeks
AFS isn't any higher on Seattle, just not so sanguine on Arizona. The difference is forcing turnovers. FO sees repeatable skill. AFS sees noise. Seattle is the second worst team in the NFL at forcing turnovers. The Cardinals are the fourth best. It's a heady discussion and perhaps fodder for a future roundtable, but for the sake of hope and simplicity, let's say that Arizona and Seattle each have an equal chance of winning today's turnover battle. That's a reasonable break even. Seattle's offense has been better at protecting the ball than Arizona, but less so than Arizona's defense has been "better" at intercepting and recovering the ball than Seattle.
How much does a healthy Hasselbeck narrow the gap? Not enough if Seattle plays stupid. Here's my gamplan for beating the Cards:
- Let Morris Warm the Bench: Against Clancy Pendergast, blitz pick up is huge. Seattle's already taken a knock should Leonard Weaver sit and Owen Schmitt start. They can't survive another indecisive, and in Morris' case, flimsy blocker in the backfield. Keep Jones in, let him do his unheralded, body sacrificing, impressively consistent pass blocking thing and use that extra second to target the blitz's weak link. There's always one. If Morris is in, I hope Seattle runs or outlets him. Few things befuddle like Morris left in to pick up the blitz.
- Exploit the Middle: In week 3, when the Pendergast's blitzes cleared, it was often the middle left exposed. Washington was successful on 9 of 14 plays up the middle, including five first downs. None were big plays, but the success was no aberration. Seattle finally has a Chris Cooley of its own to work the seam and the best way to shake the Seneca Wallace malaise is for Hasselbeck to get John Carlson involved early and often. Exploit Chris Spencer's newfound people moving skills by rushing the gut. Three man fronts are susceptible to athletic linemen who can pull in space and create second level rush lanes, but Seattle must avoid stringing plays long and allowing Arizona's linebackers to swarm.
- Rotate Double Coverage: Arizona overmatches Seattle's secondary. The need for pressure is a given. Rotating double teams will slow Warner's read and force him from keying one receiver and firing away.
- Keep the safeties back: If ever there were a time to trust your run defense, this is it. Seattle should avoid stacking the box in anything but goal line situations. That includes short yardage, where Ken Whisenhunt is know to play action, roll out Warner and target an escaping tight end. Keep Seattle's safeties deep and contain Arizona, the tiny oomph stacking Brian Russell or Deon Grant might provide the run game is outweighed, many, many times over, by the loss of deep support.
- Keep cover as plays break down: If I were secondary coach, I'd hammer this every day. Every damn day. It finally looks like Seattle is getting it, but this should have been law from week one.
- Stay creative: Losing Patrick Kerney has done wonders to improve John Marshall's play calling. Seattle's recent use of zone blitzes, five man and six man blitzes, and varied and unpredictable looks has made an awful at times defense resemble the D we hop - expected and know exists.
It's a long shot, somewhere between Football Outsiders' extreme pessimism and AFS's almost rosy outlook. But damn if it isn't doable. And should Seattle win today, if only for a week, the season continues. What sweeter hopes for a fallen team?