It took the better part of two months, but Darrell Bevell and the Seattle Seahawks finally figured out how to move the ball without an offensive line. I say that respectfully, and not as a slight to Bevell, as having an offensive line is a pretty integral part of playing football. It was, in short, a blueprint not only for success, but for a very specific type of it.
It started with the run game. Marshawn Lynch rampaged through the Falcons front seven like the rhinoceros from Donkey Kong, netting 145 yards on 24 carries. In the past few weeks, the Seahawks running game has resembled the T-Rex in Jurassic Park: a ferocious beast tepidly testing different parts of the fence to find a weakness. Today, they looked like the T-Rex after it got out. It wasn't fancy, just aggressive. Seattle's backup O-linemen may not pass block well, but they can sure as shit fire off the line in the run game. All told, the Seahawks rushed for 211 yards on 42 carries.
From there, the 'Hawks offense was able to work the pass game and it wasn't just off of play-action like you'd assume when a team is running that well. No, Seattle gave Russell Wilson room by moving the pocket, bootlegging, three-step drops to short routes where the receiver can catch it with cushion, and decisive early-read throws from the second-year QB. Instead of trying to beat the Falcons over the top, they took incisive bites one first down at a time. The result was 279 yards and two touchdowns on 27 dropbacks, only one of which resulted in a sack.
Catching the ball with room to run, Golden Tate and, to a smaller extent Doug Baldwin, made the most of their opportunities, turning their 15 combined targets into 11 catches for 182 yards and a score -- an incredible 12.2 yards/target. Darrell Bevell has been consigned as Seattle's Mr. Holland and this morning he delivered his opus, scripting a gameplan that yielded 490 yards on 69 (giggidy) plays in 35+ minutes. That's a 7.1 clip and it never gave the Falcons a chance. He even threw in a trick play, having Lynch throw it back to Wilson on sweep, who then delivered a 43-yard TD pass to Jermaine Kearse. There are still going to be a lot of people calling for Bevell's head, but while I'm not his staunchest defender, I think this game shows reason to stay the course*.
*Which, honestly, I can't believe I have to say about the OC of a 9-1 team averaging 27 points per game.
Meanwhile, the excellence Seahawks defense has become easy to take for granted. The box score (10 PA, one turnover, two sacks, 226 yards allowed) is more stifling than spectacular but that's okay by me. The pressure on Matt Ryan was constant, forcing him off his reads and never allowing him a comfortable pocket in which to set his feet. Ryan, who is very good when pressured, was still able to complete 65% of his passes but the Seattle pressure limited the damage to a trfilin' 4.8 yards per attempt.
Seattle's D kept the lid on the box, as it were, bottling up Steven Jackson and the running game in addition to their suffocation of the downfield pass. The key to that type of success is the front seven winning their individual battles and it's something they did consistently. Additionally, I can't remember more than maybe one or two missed tackles all game, which is a major tip of the hat to the strict emphasis Dan Quinn and Ken Norton Jr have been putting on proper tackling, as opposed to trying to guillotine everybody. Perhaps the biggest indication of Seattle's ability to keep the Falcons in front of them was Eal Thomas' tackle. Yeah, singular. Seattle's leading tackler and last line of defense only had to make one stop today.
The load was lifted from Thomas' capable shoulders by Bobby Wagner, who seemed to sniff out half the plays the Falcons ran en route to nine solo tackles, and Walter Thurmond, who replaced an injured Brandon Browner* and logged seven tackles (two for loss) and playing excellent pass defense. Other major contributors were KJ Wright, Kam Chancellor, and the entire defensive front, who provided the aforementioned relentless pressure. On the back end, Richard Sherman and the rest of the secondary rarely gave Atlanta's receivers more than a step of daylight. When every unit does its job, every player looks good. Assignment-correct defense > attempted-knockout defense.
**Severity yet unknown.
The special teams were excellent again. I never mention them, but that's on me. Coming into this game, Seattle's special teams ranked 5th in the NFL by DVOA and they put all of it on display today. Hauschka not only made all four of his field goal attempts, including a 53-yarder, his seven kickoffs allowed only 64 return yards, with Atlanta's average starting field position being inside their own 20 on those occasions. Jon Ryan, meanwhile, netted 82 yards on his two punts and Tate turned his three punt returns into 55 yards. Football isn't just about how many yards you get, it's about how many you have to get and today, the Seahawks didn't have to get nearly as many as the Falcons did. Such is the hidden value of field position and it's something that Pete Carroll takes into great consideration.
Some other stuff:
~Russell Wilson's final line (19/26, 287 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INT, 134.6 efficiency) was almost mechanical, like when you figure out which four pass plays on Madden will always work.
~I mentioned earlier that Seattle's defense only recorded one turnover and two sacks, but they also dropped two interceptions and had a Michael Bennett vengeance-sack overturned on a criminally loose interpretation of a bad rule. If you missed it, Bennett beat his man coming from the left. getting leverage, he slipped beneath his block and right into the legs of a turtling Ryan. Wrapping up the QBs legs, Bennett pulled Ryan to the turf, only to be penalized for "roughing the passer," a call sadly deemed a necessity by a misguided effort to reduce injury. It's a rule I hate even when the quarterback is throwing and thoroughly despise when it's called when he isn't. It was one of nine penalties that cost Seattle 80 yards.
~The Seahawks went 9/15 on third down. They're getting good at that.
~The Falcons went 4/12. The defense is getting good at that, too.
~Seattle ran 73% more offensive plays in this game than they did against the Rams two weeks ago.
~The Seahawks averaged 5.0 yards per carry. That included 33 yards on eight carries from Christine Michael. He hasn't gotten a lot of playing time, but he sure has looked like a different animal than Turbin when he has.
~Golden Tate is the Rufio of the NFL. His fiendish little fingers were all over this game, wiggling his way to nearly 200 total yards. His TD was a gorgeous one-handed grab in the back corner of the endzone on a pretty little choir throw from Wilson. I hope he stays the Emerald City's little rascal for a while.
~After getting gashed by Zac Stacy and Mike James, Seattle held Steven Jackson and the Falcons run game to just 64 yards. Refreshing.
The Seahawks are 9-1 for the first time ever. They looked the best they have, in my opinion, all season long and played like the team that we watched close out the 2012 season. It was in Week 10 last year that the SWeahawks flipped the switch into Kill Mode. This cigar is being lit in hopes of repeat performances from here on out.