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Cigar Thoughts, Week 15: Seahawks whomp Giants, 23-0

The Seattle Seahawks intercept Eli Manning five times en route to a comfortable shutout victory over the New York Giants.

The game in one photo
The game in one photo
The Star-Ledger-USA TODAY Sports

You know your favorite team is spoiling you when they win a December road game by 23 and you feel anything other than elation. We've come to expect such a high level of execution from what is still one of the youngest teams in the NFL that we, or at least I, thought that Seattle could've doubled the margin of victory. I'm saying that one time, at the beginning of the article -- just because it's how I feel and it'd be dishonest of me not to say it, -- but in no way should that be the focus.

The Seattle Seahawks went into New York for an early start in near-freezing temperatures and simply dissected them. Y'all ever seen Law Abiding Citizen? You know the part (it's near the beginning of the movie, don't freak out) where Gerard Butler catches that dude and takes him apart piece by piece after paralyzing him with an injection. That's what the Seahawks did to the Giants today. Systematic, slow, painstaking dismemberment of a victim fully aware of what's happening but utterly powerless to do anything about it.

In some games, the narrative is the flow; the undulations of win probability altered throughout by big game-changing plays. This was not one of those games. This game was a broken dam with the Seahawks' team bus acting as the final barrier; once breached, it was just a matter of physics. The 2013 Seahawks are simply so much better than the 2013 Giants and this game was a straightforward illustration of that fact. This wasn't a grudge match or bitterly contested game, or anything other than a cold, impersonal slaying of an over-matched henchman en route to a larger battle on the same field.

The offensive stats from this one don't exactly leap off the page and that's largely because Seattle's offense missed some opportunities and New York's offense never got out of bed. What Seattle lacked in explosion (two 20-yard plays), they made up for in prolonged, deliberate suffocation. The Seahawks racked up 21 first downs despite only going 3-13 on third downs, meaning the bulk of their production came on early-down chunks. It was an approach that reminded me of early 2012, as though the playbook wasn't fully available. Simple off-guard run plays and 5-15 yard passes were enough to give the chain-movers a hefty workout but didn't turn into the type of points you'd expect from the second-highest-scoring team in the league.

The 21 first downs came despite the 'Hawks playing with a short field all day, which was a huge credit to the defense and something we'll get to in a moment. Still, Seattle only netted two touchdowns on 13 drives despite an average starting position of their own 36 yard-line. There were a number of close calls -- like Golden Tate's TD catch that was called back because Tate went Rosie Ruiz on the Giants secondary, or Russell Wilson's errant throw to a wide open Zach Miller in the endzone -- that would've made the final score even more lopsided but perhaps the biggest sign of a great team is winning decisively even when they're not at their best. Marshawn Lynch ran okay (47 yards on 16 carries) but did most of his damage in the receiving game, catching all six of his targets for a team-leading 73 yards. In all, the Seahawks O-line struggled a bit, allowing four sacks, seven QB hits, and establishing a boring 3.9 yards per rush.

No, it was the defense that did the lion's share of the eating today, holding the Giants to a paltry 3.4 yards per play and picking off Eli Manning five times. I remember playing pick up football with a bunch of buddies one Saturday when a group of semi-pro guys showed up, too. They challenged us to a game, beat the shit out of us, and jawed the whole time. They had plays, we didn't. They had skill, we had less. They were jerks, we didn't have a leg to stand on. It's the closest personal experience I've had to what Manning and the Giants must've been feeling today. Couldn't run, couldn't pass, couldn't crow.

The Giants had 25 yards rushing on 14 carries, 156 passing on 39 dropbacks. Andre Brown spent the afternoon fighting off tacklers in his own backfield, thanks to a constant battering of the interior line by Brandon Mebane, Red Bryant, and others while Michael Bennett (4 tackles, 1 sack, 3 QB hits) and the rest of the edge rushers tormented New York's out-classed tackles. The second level was captained, per yoozh, by Bobby Wagner who marked the game as his territory like an over-hydrated rottweiler. 10 tackles (8 solo), 1.5 sacks, and a tackle for a loss for Wagner today, leading the team in each of those categories.

With no running game to alleviate the pressure, Manning was forced to spend the afternoon trying to fit the football into openings he had no business attempting. All day long his receivers were blanketed by an uncharacteristic amount of straight man coverage by the 'Hawks. With two of your top three corners out, you'd think you'd see more zone sets but, just as we saw against the Saints, Pete Carroll and Dan Quinn trusted backups Jeremy Lane and Byron Maxwell to cover Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks, and Reuben Randle one-on-one. And they were fantastic.

The Legion of Boom continued to elevate their game and their collective profile with maybe the best game they've ever played together. Lane was mostly on the field in five-DB looks and translated his sticky coverage and instinctual ability to beat ball-carriers to their point of attack into seven tackles, a broken up pass, and at least a half-dozen shutdowns. Maxwell, for his part, spent the entire game navel-to-navel with the guys he covered, snagging two interceptions for his trouble. Richard Sherman looked bored all day, untested by receivers unable to shake him for even a moment. In fact, I think he was only thrown at three times and turned those into three interceptions: two for himself and one for Earl Thomas, when he batted an endzone fade route into Thomas' waiting hands.

Earl, for his part, finished the game with just four tackles but that doesn't do justice to his impact. I don't think I've ever seen a safety diagnose a play as quickly and decisively as Thomas seems to every time. His ability to anticipate the direction the ball is intended and the conviction with which he acts on it is unparalleled in my history of watching football. He allows others to make plays by consistently taking away the opponent's initial read. Kam Chancellor rounded out the secondary's excellence in true enforcer fashion. He didn't have any highlight-reel knockout hits in this one but he may as well have. Chancellor's reputation preceded him today, like a power hitter in baseball. On at least two occasions, Giants wide-outs dropped easy passes when they knew he was coming, the slot receiver version of an intentional walk.

The end result was a masterpiece, a seamless tarp pulled airtight over the Giants offense. The Meadowlands was hermetically sealed today, the Seahawks traveling cross-country to vacuum out the last gasps of air from Tom Coughlin and Co.'s season.

Other stuff:

*Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell caught more of Eli Manning's passes (4) than Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz did (3).

*Cruz was credited with a third catch, but Lane's tackle knocked him out of the game and Carroll's challenge overturned it. As a presumably concussed Cruz hobbled to the locker room, the replay official reversed the ruling on the field, rendering the pass incomplete and dropping Cruz back to 998 yards on the season. Pete Carroll is ruthless. He is completely devoid of ruth.

*Total yards: Seattle - 327, New York - 181

*Wilson looked off today. Not bad, just off. The aforementioned miss to Miller was one of the most uncharacteristically inaccurate throws I've ever seen Wilson make, as it came with minimal pressure on a throwback play we've seen them run flawlessly all season. He also skipped a couple of shorter throws on his way to a still-respectable 18/27, 207, 1 TD, 1 INT game. Again, it's not like he played poorly, just less productive than what I expected against such a terrible secondary. He did add 50 yards rushing on eight carries.

*Leading rusher: Russell Wilson. Leading receiver: Marshawn Lynch. I'm comfortable saying none of that was by design.

*Cliff Avril got another half a sack today. That's six in the last eight games.

*Seattle is now 4-1 in East Coast early starts on the season. I'll have to check, but I'm pretty sure they were 5-286 before Carroll's tenure.

The 49ers beat the Buccaneers today, meaning the Seahawks will still have to win one more game to clinch the NFC West. With the Rams thumping the Saints, however, clinching the division should correlate perfectly with clinching home field advantage. After a tough loss, it was great to Seattle re-assert themselves and win resoundingly despite missing a number of opportunities. If everything continues along its current course, the Seahawks won't have to leave the confines of the Emerald City again for another month and a half.

Jacson on Twitter