The Seahawks moved to 3-1 on Monday Night with a victory over Washington. Well, enough chit chat, let's get down to business.
A win's a win
This was widely called an "ugly" win by media and players alike, and this description seems pretty accurate, in my opinion. Perhaps "sloppy" is a better term. 13 penalties alone is enough to classify this game as such for the Seahawks, but there were also three to four uncharacteristic drops by Seahawk receivers, at least two dropped interceptions by Seahawk defenders, a completely listless third quarter performance by the offense, and a few missed assignments or blown coverages on defense that allowed Washington to remain in the game until very late.
Nonetheless (yes, nonetheless!) I think it's pretty important to point out: things are going really great. Seattle's 3-1 after facing the toughest schedule in the NFL through five weeks.
We're spoiled (I'm spoiled)
Yeah, we're spoiled rotten.
1) It's extremely difficult to win on the road in the NFL -- there's a reason Vegas spots home teams three points regardless of who's playing. I feel like it's easy to overlook just how difficult road wins can be to come by. As John Morgan put it after the Denver victory, we as Seahawk fans are now experiencing a funny phenomenon: The agony of winning but expecting to win better.
2) It's unreasonable and irrational to expect the Seahawks, even though they're one of the best teams in the NFL, to play flawless football over the course of a game, not to mention a 16-game season. I found myself extremely frustrated during the third quarter in this one, angry at Russell Wilson and the offense for failing to convert third downs after being gifted great field position by the defense and special teams. What a brat I am. Look, Seattle's going to go three and out sometimes. Other teams play defense.
Here's the thing: Seattle's offense is very good. Per DVOA through five weeks, they're ranked 2nd in the NFL. The Seahawks rush offense, in particular, is kicking major ass. Let us revel in this.
Seattle's rush offense DVOA stands at 33.8%. The last team to end a season above that mark was the 2000 Rams, who finished at 36.5%.— Zach Whitman (@zjwhitman) October 7, 2014
By DVOA, Seattle's rush offense ranks second among all teams in the DVOA era (dating back to 1989). Only behind the Greatest Show on Turf.— Zach Whitman (@zjwhitman) October 7, 2014
With the help of Russell Wilson's legs, Seattle now owns first place in the NFL in rushing yards per game at 167.2. They lead the NFL in yards per rush at 5.4. The potent combination of Seattle's Triumvirate in Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, and Percy Harvin means the Seahawks are absolutely carving up teams on the ground. Just as Pete Carroll desires.
Of course, as you'd expect, mistakes were made. Penalties were accrued. While it's slightly disconcerting that Seattle, after playing fairly penalty-free ball through three games, reverted to their 2013 ways, it's not terribly surprising. Seattle led the NFL in penalties last year. My hope is that they can get back to playing more disciplined football in Week 6 at home, but maybe that's a pipe dream.
At the end of the day, though, the Seahawks remained in control of this game throughout, never trailed, we saw Seattle stick to their foundational tenets, and they won by 10 on the road.
The Seahawks special teams focus continues to show up. Washington flat out refused to kick the ball to Percy Harvin, the result of which was starting field position at the 35, 29, and 44 yard line. Toward the end of the game, as Seattle prepped for a possible onside kick, Washington booted one through the endzone, but otherwise, Harvin's hidden yards are showing up. For a team that highly values the field position game, this is huge.
The punt teams continued to dominate. Zero return yards on six punts. Look at the field position that Jon Ryan helped the Seahawks' defense achieve.
1st Q: Punt to Washington 19 yard line, fair catch.
2nd Q: Punt to ~5 yard line, Josh Thomas loses sight of it, lets it bounce into the endzone. Penalty brings Washington back ten yards so they start at the 10 yard line. I believe Thomas was taken off of punts after this, replaced by Kearse.
2nd Q: Punt to Washington 19 yard line, fair catch.
3rd Q: Punt to Washington 1 yard line, scooted out of bounds by Jermaine Kearse
3rd Q: Punt to Washington 8 yard line, fair caught.
4th Q: Punt to Washington 9 yard line, fair caught.
Ricardo Lockette remains an intimidating factor, and his bloodthirst was left unquenched in this one as Andre Roberts refused to return the ball.
On the day, Washington's average starting field position was at their 17 yard line. Seattle's was their 35 yard line. That's a huge deal.
Seahawks still not "firing on all cylinders"
This goes without saying, especially in this Washington game, but the cool thing about being ranked 2nd in Offensive DVOA is that the Hawks' offense still doesn't appear to have really found their groove. Now, there's no saying that they'll ever get there -- play "in the zone" and start executing at a higher level -- but we've heard Pete Carroll talk about how he tries to cultivate that pattern of playing your best football late in the year.
Don't ask me how he does this, but his teams do have a track record for this (USC had a 'no-lose November' slogan) and I would say it has certainly shown up for the Seahawks. The 2012 Playoffs are a good example of the Seahawks' offense hitting a higher plane, and in the Playoffs last year, it was the defense's turn. Seattle's defense played right there on the edge all throughout December and January, flying around, creating turnovers, zeroed in, however you want to call it, and it sprung them to the Super Bowl. Once Seattle made it to the Super Bowl, all three phases kicked in with a gusto, and the rout was on.
Let's look at a little process-based analysis, keeping in mind we know the end result was sloppy.
As far as process goes, Seattle executed this play just as you'd hope, and just as they'd drawn it up. Harvin's slightly awkward or late move to go into motion was ultimately called a false start, but bottom line, Seattle executed the play how they wanted to.
Baldwin blocks, Percy eludes. Britt blocks, Percy eludes. Max Unger throws a sick cut block. J.R. Sweezy outruns Harvin to block the safety. Harvin breaks a tackle on a trailing linebacker. I mean... from a process point of view, this is great to see.
The false start call signals a four-point swing, though, as Seattle will be forced to settle for a field goal on the drive. Arguably, this changed the complexion of the game.
Fast forward to the third quarter. Seahawks up 17-10, now at midfield. On a 2nd down and 12, Russell Wilson checks into an audible with a "kill" hand signal, and Percy Harvin runs a medium ranged out route, finding plenty of open space. Russell gets great protection, including a great one-on-one block from Luke Willson on the edge, and Wilson fires a bullet to Percy 23 yards downfield.
It's not an easy throw at that distance but Wilson puts it in a place where Harvin can and usually does catch it.
Two hands on the ball. Drops it. Bummer.
Harvin makes the catch 99 times out of 100. Process good. Result bad. Russell Wilson would scramble out of a collapsing pocket for seven yards on 3rd and 12, and the drive was dead. This play would have put Seattle at the 37 yard line with a fresh set of downs, and instead of having a listless, ugly, ineffective third quarter, could have started opening up the floodgates. Woulda, coulda, shoulda, I know, but again, the process was good, perhaps great.
Fast forward a little more to the early part of the fourth quarter.
Ultimately, Seattle would score a touchdown on this drive so to call it a game-changing play would be a little disingenuous. That said, if you buy into the thought process that explosive plays carry powers to shift the complexion of games, this was a missed opportunity.
Looking at process, Seattle executes the play to perfection. Percy Harvin, normally a crossing route kind of threat in the Seahawks offense, runs a sluggo (slant and go) over the middle. The safety to Harvin's side bites on what he apparently believes will be a shot at the chains. Harvin instead turns on the jets and completely blows past the defense into centerfield. Wilson hits him with a floating bomb, and "the rout is on."
Except James Carpenter gets called for unnecessarily jumping on a guy. Despite the fact that this is an extremely common blocking technique and something Carp is undoubtedly taught to do, the call stands.
Giants guard Geoff Schwartz:
Umm when did it turn illegal to finish a DL? That's a bad call. Should we just tap them when they fall down?— Geoff Schwartz (@geoffschwartz) October 7, 2014
He didn't even spear the guy or lead with his head. Just fell on him. Next time he should pick up him and give him a hug. Maybe that will do— Geoff Schwartz (@geoffschwartz) October 7, 2014
Happens in the trenches every play. Both sides of the ball "@w1ndyy: Forearm to the head of a guy already on the ground?"— Geoff Schwartz (@geoffschwartz) October 7, 2014
Just saw 3 pancake blocks. 30 yard penalty on the offense.— Geoff Schwartz (@geoffschwartz) October 7, 2014
NFL Head of Officiating Dean Blandino explained that a player on the ground is awarded "defenseless player rights," and thus the blow to the head was illegal, but that doesn't exactly explain the "hit a player, on the ground, unnecessarily" explanation by Jeff Tripplette. If Tripplette had mentioned a blow to the head that might've made me feel better. But regardless, I've literally never seen this penalty called in all of the years I've been watching the NFL. I'd honestly wonder if this was the first time in the history of the league it's been called, no hyperbole.
Bottom line, Seattle would go on to score a touchdown so it was more or less moot (they also drained more clock, so I guess maybe it was a good thing?), but Max Unger's ankle might like to have a word with Mr. Tripplette.
So, process great. Results, bad.
One other notable characteristic about the Seahawks "not firing on all cylinders" pertains to their defense. Thus far, I've been very happy with the Seahawks' defense, outside of maybe three big plays. I'm actually not even mad about what Philip Rivers was able to do against the LOB because quite honestly those three touchdown plays were absurdly awesome and the Chargers deserved to convert them.
So, outside of the big touchdown pass to DeSean Jackson in this game, I was very happy with the performance. Overall, it's pretty remarkable what the defense has been able to do against some top quarterbacks (plus Kirk Cousins). That said, they're not getting the turnovers they normally get and it's not because of a regression to the mean or because they got lucky last year. It's because they're not catching the ball and because they've been really unlucky on recovering fumbles.
The Seahawks have forced six fumbles and only recovered one of them. By nature, fumble recoveries are random, but you have to think the Seahawks will start falling on these damn things.
Additionally, I counted at least two dropped interceptions in this game -- one by Earl Thomas (1st Q) and one by Bobby Wagner (2nd Q), and both were deep in Redskins territory.
I don't need to tell you how big of an impact any of these plays would have had if Seattle's defenders had caught the ball, and while I realize "that's football", this is a team that actually does typically make these kinds of plays. It's how they led the NFL in a +20 turnover margin last season. Right now they're at even (15th in the NFL). We know that Pete Carroll preaches turnovers because, as he says, turnover margin is the one stat that has the highest correlation to wins and losses.
Look for Seattle to start rattling off turnovers in the coming weeks. It's coming.
Anyway, end of the day -- Seattle is in great shape going into their Week 5 matchup with the Cowboys, and even a marginal improvement in execution and this team could be playing so much better. Through four games, against the toughest schedule the NFL could offer, I'm very happy with the results, and even happier with the process thus far.