The Seahawks went back to their blueprint in their 12-point victory over the Cardinals tonight, relying on the wizardry of Russell Wilson, asphyxiating defense, and a near-lethal dose of Marshawn Lynch. The result was a win more one-sided than the score implies, and just the Seahawks' second in their last eight games at Arizona.
Let's start with Wilson. For the foreverth straight game, Seattle's offensive line struggled in pass protection, forcing a never ending stream of improvisation from their second year QB. It worked out just fine. Wilson started off hot, completing seven of his first nine passes for 96 yards and two touchdowns mixing in reminders of how dangerous his legs could be en route to 14-0 lead.
Amongst those first nine attempts was one of the more staggering throws I've seen all year. Flushed hard to the right, Wilson, without bothering to set his feet, threw (or flicked, I guess?) the ball over the moon and into Sidney Rice's hands for the game's opening score. I'm still not certain how he did it and I'm not even sure it was his most impressive throw of the game. That would come later when, on third down, the Seahawks QB found himself firmly in the grasp of Calais Campbell, being thrown facelong into the turf for a drive ending sack. Except that while Wilson was being slammed to the ground like a bag of grocery store ice, he somehow Gumby'd his way into lobbing the ball to a diving receiver* for the first down. I mean, he was horizontal, facing forward, and he was still able to throw a more coordinated pass than I could sober and upright.
*I was too busy trying to unscramble my brain to take note of which guy caught it. Anybody know?
That play was characteristic of Wilson's game tonight. Not only was it a remarkable athletic feat, it was a third-down conversion. Seattle, as we know, has struggled on third downs something fierce this year (32.1% coming into this game, 26th in the NFL) but this game was different. I think one reason is that Darrell Bevell took the pressure off of his beleaguered O-line, getting the ball out of Wilson's hands quickly, taking advantage of the spacing that the spread offense provides. Wilson completed his first six third down throws, to six receivers, for six first down. He'd finish seven for 8 on third down passes, and the 'Hawks would go 7-12 on third down overall.
A big reason for that success was the crispness, reliability, and assignment correctness that having a healthy Zach Miller provides. Playing for the first time since the Texans game, Miller logged five catches for 40 yards and Wilson's second TD pass. In all, Wilson's 18 completions went to nine different receivers on 29 attempts, for 235 yards and three touchdowns. The lone blemishes on Russell's ledger were his three fumbles, two of which were lost deep in Seattle territory. He's already fumbled more times this season than all of last and while two of them were the direct result of missed blocks, Wilson will need to be better at protecting the ball regardless of pressure.
Wilson was terrific, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that much of the credit for Seattle's success can be attributed to the unchaining of Lynch's inner rottweiler. Beast Mode ran for 91 of the hardest yards I can remember watching, displaying a freaky combination of power and elusiveness, like one of those kids that stack cups really fast was playing Madden and toggling back and forth between the truck stick and the juke button. On one run, he popped Darnell Dockett so hard that Dockett's helmet flew off before barreling through two other tacklers. Darnell Dockett is a bad man and Marshawn Lynch turned him into a rock 'em, sock 'em, robot.
The defense was sensational again tonight. They have been so consistently good that I find myself taking umbrage at opposing first downs. Earl Thomas was a madman tonight, beating blocks, making open-field tackles, and covering four-thirds of the field. All told, Thomas made six solo tackles and corralled a Brandon Browner deflection for his fourth interception on the year. He played free and wild, a luxury afforded him by Seattle's best pass rushing effort of the season. The Seahawks' front logged seven sacks, nine other tackles for losses, and hit Carson Palmer 13 times.
A lot of the blame can be placed on Arizona's decidedly sub par O-line, but a bad O-line only matters if it's taken advantage of. When you're facing inferior competition, it's important to take full advantage and Seattle did. Nine players recorded at least half a sack, with a dozen or so pass rushes that jumped right off the screen at you. They didn't just beat the Cardinal's offensive line, they bullied 'em. It seemed like one out of every three Arizona dropbacks featured a Seattle rusher dishragging one of the O-linemen. It was a series of wind sprints to the QB, and the team took turns winning those races.
Some other things that stood out to me:
*The continued erasure of Larry Fitzgerald by the Legion of Boom is incredible. In their last two matchups, Fitzgerald has been targeted 17 times, resulting in three catches for 19 yards. That's 1.1 yards per target towards one of the best wide receivers God ever saw fit to create.
*Brandon Browner broke up three passes.
*At one point in the third quarter, Seattle had 227 yards to Arizona's 70.
*Golden Tate led the team in receiving yards (77) and targets (7). I expect Tate to assure himself a handsome extension over the last nine games, as he is the team's most athletic non-Harvin receiver and arguably the most dynamic after-the-catch threat in the entire division. Wilson's yards per attempt to Tate is higher than any of his other receivers and among the highest in the league since the start of last year. He may not ever be a fantasy football superstar, but Golden Tate opens the offense up in ways Sidney Rice, Doug Baldwin, and Jermaine Kearse can not.
*On one particularly sweet deep crossing play from Wilson to Tate, Lynch expertly picked up a blitzing linebacker, walling him off and letting his QB step up out of of a collapsing pocket to complete the pass. If you're wondering why Christine Michael can't get on the field consistently, don't.
*The Cardinals averaged 1.67 yards per rush. Which is what made their workload disparity (13 carries for Rashard Mendenhall, three for Andre Ellington) so baffling.
*Wilson was hit or sacked 12 times on 32 dropbacks.
*Malcolm Smith always plays like it's a full moon. Sacks, chase-downs, playing man coverage on Fitzgerald on the goal line - he did everything it was reasonable to ask of him and then he did more. He has been my favorite defensive surprise this season.
*Bruce Irvin looked not-one-dimensional tonight. He's adapting to linebacker really well, even de-cleating a lineman with a straight bull rush. Also, Chris Clemons is a monster. I had forgotten how monstrous he is. The whole defensive line was stupendous.
*This team is gonna be savage when Russell Okung, Breno Giacomini, and Percy Harvin are healthy. Not only are the Seahawks now 6-1 without their full compliment, they get six of their final eight games at home.
*At the NFL Network post-game set, Rich Eisen and Steve Mariucci called the group of Seahawks fans that stuck around the biggest after-game crowd they've ever had. This is your reminder that the game was played in Arizona. Good work, 12s. Except you, guy who held up the "You Just Got LYNCHED!" sign.
With their next game coming on Monday night of Week 8, Seattle gets to enjoy a hidden bye week (11 days between games) to rest up and recover. Things are setting up very nicely for the 'Hawks.