Seattle is a huge underdog. The Seahawks are the first team to ever play a full season and make the playoffs with a losing record. The Saints are the reigning Super Bowl Champions. Many are concluding that Seattle has nothing to lose and everything to gain. I think that's bollocks.
As a 7-9 team that played worse than their record, Seattle is not only riddled with holes, it's desperately short on elite talent. Maybe it can still find that player, be it an end, receiver, linebacker, quarterback, whatever, but losing a top ten pick greatly reduces the chance of that happening.
If anything, the compulsion to win forced Seattle into an unwise investment. It sacrificed a top ten pick for a long shot Wild Card game. If the Saints blow the doors off of Qwest field, run the score up early and cruise to a lopsided victory, I don't think any Seahawks fan will invoke the idea of "house money." Seattle wagered their most valuable off-season asset on a long shot. It might not have to win, but a blowout loss will be extra sour.
Hasselbeck and Whitehurst
So glad this storyline is almost over. In the end, I don't know what I will look back at with more bitterness: Hasselbeck's three seasons of uncontested decline or that Charlie Whitehurst was the quarterback to force the issue. I do not root for an end to this season, but I am desperate for an end to this pseudo-controversy.
I spent the week following week 11 talking offense and so neglected to mention that Earl Thomas had perhaps his best game in Blue against the Saints. I was re-watching the game last night, and Thomas was everywhere.
His first tackle prevented a first down on third and six. Before the snap, Lofa Tatupu pointed out Ladell Betts to Thomas and Thomas moved into the box over Betts. Betts ran out of the backfield and into a crossing pattern towards the left sideline. He had the angle on Thomas. It's a geometry play--all football plays are, I guess--with New Orleans assuming Betts' head start could overcome Thomas's superior quickness. It didn't. Thomas took a marvelous angle. He didn't chase Betts but instead continued forward and intersected Betts when Betts attempted to redirect up field.
Thomas also finished the game with a flurry. The outcome was long decided but Thomas didn't quit. In Seattle's penultimate snap on defense, he controlled the edge and helped tackle Chris Ivory for no gain--no small feat. That forced fourth and six. The Saints could have taken a knee. The Saints could have taken a knee three plays earlier, but Anus Mouth and the Comb Forward wanted to pad their numbers. Thomas jumped Robert Meachem's route and intercepted a tumbling pass towards the corner of the end zone. It was beautiful and cathartic.
His expression following the pick tells you everything you need to know about the precocious kid that should develop into a franchise free safety. Thomas didn't exult. He didn't dance around or throw down or act big. He slowly walked down the sideline, looking tired but not weary.
Running the Ball
Despite Hasselbeck's pass-splosion, the Seahawks did not mount any kind of running game against the Saints. This concerns me. The Seahawks need to be able to run the ball tomorrow, because of the weather, because of Gregg Williams's penchant for blitzing, because Hasselbeck is prone to huge turnovers, and because even at their best, I don't think the Seahawks can match the Saints pass-for-pass.
A blowout loss will come on the back of multiple three and outs by the Seahawks offense, and when an offense can not run the ball effectively and can not complete a high percentage of its pass attempts, three and out becomes less a pitfall than a destination. I think the run game needs a mobile quarterback that can stretch the defense horizontally. I hope I'm wrong. I hope the Seahawks' week 17 breakout was caused by Mike Gibson and Tyler Polumbus, a return to form by Beast Mode, or something, anything that can be duplicated.
Through the first part of the season, the Seahawks were the worst team in the NFL at defending the screen pass. Seattle was closer to competent against the Saints in week 11, and over the second half of the season, Seattle has greatly improved its defense against screen passes. Or so is my recollection.
Given the conditions and their personnel, I expect the Saints to heavily involve Julius Jones and Reggie Bush in the pass game. Both are potentially dangerous receivers. Bush could be great, but he's a lunkhead--sort of Aaron Curry of the bayou. Seattle must be able to defend screens with their base personnel and out of their bandit package. Could you imagine Julius Jones combining for over 150 yards rushing and receiving? Gah, that would take the rusty shiv and strapping it to an electric screwdriver.
High ankle sprains have stopped Seattle from running behind their far and away best lineman, left tackle Russell Okung. I respect the hell out of whoever was smart enough to sacrifice that option for the betterment of the team's future. That said, with the season on the line and facing a huge favorite, it wouldn't surprise me if Seattle broke form and ran a few rushes behind left tackle and off left end. If it doesn't work, there's an entire off-season to heal.
Clemons and Brock
Seattle practically doubles its pass rush when it pairs Chris Clemons with Raheem Brock. Clearly Carroll wants to field a Clemons-Brock bookended line, because that means Seattle has effectively put its opponent into a passing down. With the Saints thin at running back and likely to supplement the run game with quick hitters, a little extra speed on the outside might be more valuable than a little extra stoutness on the edge.
Seattle was more aggressive about using both Clemons and Brock against the Rams. Both ends were on the field for more than half of Seattle's snaps. I would love it if the Seahawks did something similar against the Saints. It's as simple as expanding the definition of "passing down."
Ivory ran through the Seahawks. Ran through Tatupu, ran through Siavii, ran through tackles and over tacklers like Jim Brown. Some are too quick to call someone the next big thing. Some are too cautious, afraid today's sensation may be tomorrow's James Harrison. I think it's best to give credit where credit is due, but keep perspective. I have no idea how Ivory's career might play out. I do know that against the Seahawks he looked like an in-his-prime Marion Barber. Powerful. Hugely powerful. And looking for a fight every time he touched the football.
One play that really stands out is Ivory's stiff arm on Jordan Babineaux. Apart from the raw power Ivory displayed throwing a 210 pound defensive back to the turf with one hand, there was the monent before contact. The moment Ivory swapped the football from his right to his left, shifted his angle towards Babineaux and initiated contact. Athleticism can be defined as a lot of things, but my favorite definition is body control. Some players play football like everything is moving slowly and there's time to plan, time to coordinate actions, time to line up blockers and anticipate the route of defenders and move towards holes that have yet to develop. Ivory did that. He moved calmly but forcefully and controlled when and how contact would be initiated. And when it was, who would win was assured.
The Saints lost a weapon when they lost Chris Ivory. I am not sad to see him out.
The Taste of Winning
The Seahawks were mired in losing. They didn't like it, but like Hawaiians and Spam, they had developed a taste for it. They yearned for defeat. At San Francisco, against the lowly Niners, Seattle caved to their cravings. They could win. They could slap around Alex Smith like a doe-eyed twink hungry for abuse from Daddy, but from deep inside their guts, the need to fill their maws with losing commanded them to blow assignments, break tackles and desist pass rush.
Pete Carroll knew it. He smelled the sickly sweetness of defeat smeared across Kelly Jennings' lips. He saw his team grow flabby and incompetent on the milk of loss. He watched with pained desperation as his team hungrily suckled on the teat of downfall. And it pained him. And he felt helpless to stop it.
Then the Rams took Qwest field in week 17. In the flurry of flying bodies the Seahawks were bested. St. Louis truly sucked more than them. And in Sam Bradford's blank expression, the Seahawks saw a reflection of the wretched losers they had become. And in beating the Rams, the Seahawks broke their vicious addiction to losing.
Now the Seahawks are hooked on winning and would stab their own mothers for another taste. They're strung out and fiending. They're hungry with the hunger of addiction. If it means two-a-days until the VMAC is a mud pit, the Seahawks are down. If it means hiring a private investigator to find Drew Brees hairline, Aaron Curry has already written the check. If it means an eternity in Rodney Harrison's ring of Hell (dedicated to head hunters and late-hit artists), Chris Clemons believes he can make deputy demon master by his 29th millennia. It's worth it, everything is worth it, because this team is so goddamn desperate for another hit of WnFrEva, they'll be God damned to get it.
In a not too funny coincidence, I have battled with my internet connection from Qwest all day. Who knows why this stuff happens. If it's the weather or some kind of periodic brown out everyone's hush hush about. A bad internet connection is one of those countless things in modern life you don't want to wine about but is incredibly frustrating nonetheless.
Watching Seahawks football is supposed to be fun. I don't know if it makes you a bad fan for walking away from a blowout defeat or just sane. I haven't ditched out of a game in years, but that might be vanity and that might be rank optimism. I don't want to miss that one time that Seattle falls desperately behind but puts everything together and rallies and wins. Won't that be great. Won't that be worth all my hours spent watching garbage-time football. I hope so.
This week was fun, but with the game so close, anxiety is starting to sink in. I know I am supposed to assume the Seahawks will lose and be pleasantly surprised by any fight at all. I don't feel that way. My standard for tomorrow is a close game, and I want a win. People talk about New Orleans like the Saints are so much better than the Seahawks that no amount of injuries, or home field advantage, or strategy could possibly change the outcome of this game. Maybe it's my pride typing, but I think that's bull. This Seahawks team, at home, is better than the mangled Saints team that will take the field. I believe it and because I believe it, I expect the Seahawks to win.