In a game nearly devoid of (positive) "wow" moments, it's at least nice to see the Seahawks exit with a win. Seattle let an over-matched, under-quarterbacked Titans team linger all game, not because Tennessee played particularly well, but because miscues and a lack of consistent execution allowed them to.
In all honesty, the Seahawks defense played really well. The Titans scored 13 points but anyone watching the game knows that has more to do with Seattle's buffoonery on offense and special teams at the end of the second quarter than it did with the 'Hawks D. We'll get to that in a moment. Before we do, however, let's take some time to acknowledge just how well the defense did with some numbers.
*3.3 -- Yards per rush allowed
*5.4 -- Yards per pass attempt allowed
*4.3 -- Overall yards per play allowed
*46.8 -- Opposing passer rating
*5 -- Tackles for loss
*6 -- Batted passes
*2 -- Interceptions
*4 -- Fumbles forced
*52 -- Plays run by Tennessee
*223 -- Yards allowed
*33.3 -- Percentage of third-downs converted by the Titans
While Seattle didn't recover any of the four Tennessee fumbles, they consistently forced the Titans off the field with short possessions. That last number is a key one for the 'Hawks, as their inability to get off the field on third down against the Colts was a main culprit in their only loss. After Tennessee converted three of their first four third downs, I was beginning to wonder if there wasn't something systemically wrong with Seattle's third-down defense. Whatever the flaw was, it seemed to be corrected over the last three quarters as the Titans only converted on one of their final eight third-down attempts. It was a welcome improvement in an area that's been plaguing the Seahawks for the duration of the Pete Carroll era.
Defensive standouts today included the usual suspects: Earl Thomas (6 tackles, 1 interception), KJ Wright (7 tackles, excellent coverage), and Richard Sherman (4 tackles, 1 interception, erasure of nearly every opposing receiver); but Seattle also got big contributions from some less heralded guys too. Malcolm Smith filled in for Bobby Wagner, who missed the game with a high ankle sprain, and was marvelous. The stat line is nice (4 tackles, 3 solo), but his biggest influence was his assignment integrity. Rookie Jordan Hill made his first impact, swallowing up blockers and even recording his first NFL half-sack*. Brandon Browner had a couple of coverage lapses early, but rebounded to finish with a plus game himself. In total, the Legion of Boom saw 18 passes targeted at Titans wide receivers and only allowed 114 yards. That is shutdown coverage.
Now, to the goofy stuff. The end of the second quarter was about as ugly as Seattle football has been since mid-2011. After a Marshawn Lynch touchdown (which came on a ballsy 4th-and-goal call), Steven Hauschka was temporarily killed trying to make a tackle on the ensuing kickoff. With their placekicker vaporized, the Seahawks turned to the Pride of Regina, Jon Ryan to handle the duties. As the first half wound down, Seattle was hustling up to the line of scrimmage to spike the ball at Tennessee's 4. With the clock ticking, the officials somehow neglected to pick up the football. Russell Wilson sprinted over to snag it and tossed the world's softest pass to the spotting referee. Unfortunately for everyone, that ref catches like John Kerry and the ball rolled haphazardly towards the endzone. By the time it was spotted, Seattle was forced to spike the ball with two seconds left, negating any shot for the TD.
Even so, I was excited to watch Ryan get his first NFL points because, well, even you can make a 21-yard field goal. The overlooked part of the equation, however, was that Ryan is the Seahawks holder, which means Seattle's eternal 53rd man, Chris Maragos, was pressed into duty. Now, I don't know if Maragos was simply unable to handle the snap/hold or if he saw this as his one chance for glory, but either way his efforts resulted in the single worst play in Seahawks history.
As the snap tumbled through Maragos' apparently frost-bitten fingers, he went into action mode. Instead of falling on the ball, he scooped it up and tried to waggle to the right. The defense quickly closed in on him and since Seattle wasn't anticipating Three Mile Island to happen on the play, no receivers ran bailout routes. Undaunted, ninja Chris tried to throw the football despite being swarmed upon like a heifer in a school of piranhas. The ill-fated shot at everlasting personal glory instead turned into a fumble that was recovered by Tennessee and returned for a touchdown, giving the Titans a 10-7 lead at the break.
The ball insecurity didn't end there for Seattle, as they coughed it up three more times in the second half. Fumbles are, on principle, 50/50 plays and the fact that the Titans were only able to recover one of them was as much good fortune as anything else. The first second half fumble occurred when Sidney Rice blindly extended the ball at the end of a play in which he had already gotten the first down, resulting in a short field for Tennessee. The second was coughed up by Derrick Coleman on a short catch. The third was a play that, in it's own comedic way, summed up this game:
As Seattle closed in on their second touchdown of the day, Marshawn Lynch took a handoff inside the Titans 10. The ball popped loose as he was wrapped up and bounced right into the hands of a Tennessee defender whose name I didn't catch but whose eyes were filled with the empty green acreage betwixt him and paydirt. This particular football was apparently made of flubber, however, and Russell Wilson was its Robin Williams. The ball careened out of the defenders hands where it was snagged with a singular paw by the Seattle QB, preserving a drive that ultimately resulted in a field goal by the resuscitated Hauschka.
As Tennessee's offensive impotence continued, the 'Hawks began to lean on them the way a superior team should. Controlling the time of possession throughout the second half, Seattle added 13 points on two field goals and Lynch's second short TD. Tennessee was only able to muster a late field goal and that's how we arrived at our final score.
We're still waiting to see offensive explosiveness that Seattle exhibited during their 10-week tour du force at the end of last season. For the sixth time in six games, the Seahawks moved the ball consistently in the middle of the field but, for the fourth time already, their struggles increased with their proximity to the opposing endzone. The numbers in this one reflect a modicum of efficiency (8.2 yards per pass, 4.6 yards per rush, 404 total yards), but the continuing inability to convert on third down (38.4%) bled through the surface of this performance like black mold in a newly painted bathroom.
Seahawks receivers are still having trouble getting separation, forcing Wilson to tuck and run eight times despite better pass protection than he's had in a while. In fact, of Seattle's five third down conversions, four of them came on Wilson scrambles. This is not a sustainable recipe for success. Despite all of that, Wilson's calmness and improvisation still resulted in a pretty impressive box score (23/31, 257 yards, 10 carries, 61 yards rushing) and a 98.5 passer efficiency.
Lynch continued to be Seattle's most reliable weapon, notching 155 total yards (77 rushing, 78 receiving) and two TDs on 25 total touches. In an era where it's fashionable to dismiss the impact of a running back, never forget how lucky Seattle is to have Marshawn. While Lynch led the team in receiving, Seattle also got small to middling contributions from their three starting WRs. Golden Tate had five catches for 33 yards, Rice had two for 35, and Doug Baldwin, who has been Seattle's most consistent receiver in 2013, added four receptions for 48. The only big play of the game came on a Lynch 55-yard catch, but Seattle's other 34 pass plays resulted in just 198 yards.
There are still a lot of things to work on for this team, perhaps a lot more than we anticipated them having at this point. Even so, the Seahawks are 5-1, and that is as much a statement of the quality of this team as anything. The Seahawks defense has been spectacular. The Seahawks offense has been tepid. Nevertheless, the Seahawks are in first place in the NFC. I'll take it. They'll need to keep improving, and I think the return of Zach Miller will do that, but I'll take it.
Seattle will have a short week before playing the Cardinals on Thursday night. Here's hoping we see some steps forward.