Today, the Seattle Seahawks reminded all of us that they're still capable of playing the type of football that won them a Super Bowl a year ago. If this season has been an MMA match, the Seahawks are the jiu jitsu masters that spent the first two-thirds of the fight trying to box. Today, they remembered who they were, took the Cardinals to the mat, locked them in a choke-hold, and held on until the referee mercifully called it.
The defense was Seattle's greatest weapon today, as they boasted their most complete defensive lineup in over two months. The Seahawks D fielded all 10 of their non-Mebane Opening Day starters and for the first time in forever, they looked like a fluid, symbiotic unit. They moved with the collective efficiency of an angered squid, wrapping their tentacles around the Cardinals and dragging them thrashing into the deep recesses of the sea where no one would ever find their lifeless bodies, lacerated by soul-crushing suction, their screams dissolving into a fury of silent bubbles.
The Cardinals had ten possessions today and eight of them lasted five or fewer plays. The average Arizona drive lasted 2:26, and covered a measly 20 yards on five plays. Seattle suffocated the Cardinals' gameplan, holding Drew Stanton and the beleaguered 'Zona offense to an impotent 4.2 yards per play. The average Cardinals pass resulted in 4.8 yards, the average run, 3.2. The questions that were raised about Seattle's defense after last week's loss were answered definitively this afternoon in the form of three sacks, five tackles for loss, six passes broken up, eight quarterback hits, a forced fumble, a blocked punt, and an interception.
And while half the region wrung their hands about the possibility of a lost season following last Sunday's close defeat in Kansas City, the Seahawks simply got back to business, enforcing their will upon a less-talented team in the raucous arena in which they've won 22 of their last 24 games. It's games like this that cause me to warn against too much sky-is-falling talk after a loss. This is a team that has gone 55 games since they've lost by 10 and until they start showing up to games with less talent than their opponent (which I'd wager they have yet to do), I think they deserve a little benefit of the doubt.
That's not to say this is a team without flaws. Far from it and a number of those flaws were on display this afternoon as the offense failed repeatedly to take advantage of delicious field position. The Seahawks spent the first half with an average starting spot of their own 44 yard line and finished with a still tasty 38 yard line starting average. But instead of turning that edge into spirit-wrecking touchdowns, the Seahawks offense struggled to get out of it's own way and managed just a single touchdown on five red zone possessions.
Their offensive line was gobbled up like marbles in a Hungry Hungry Hippos game, surrendering seven sacks (for 42 yards), 11 tackles for loss, and 11 QB hits. Seahawks running backs were held to a measly 2.68 yards per carry, a massive deviation from the rushing attack that amassed 554 ground yards in the last two games. The Arizona front seven dominated the Seattle front five and under normal circumstances, would've taken over the game. Russell Wilson, however, is not normal circumstances.
Those seven sacks could easily have been 10+ had it not been for Wilson's stunning elusiveness. Even with his receivers' well-documented inability to get separation and despite the five turnstiles serving as O-linemen in front of him, Wilson completed 17 of his 22 attempts for 211 yards (9.6 YPA), a touchdown, and zero turnovers for a passer rating 121.6. He also added 73 rushing yards for one of the most incredibly efficient performances I've ever seen from a QB, considering the daunting circumstances he faced on nearly ever snap. I mean, how many guys on the planet ever log a 40+ yard pass and a 40+ yard run in the same game? No matter how pockmarked this offense is, a smattering of Russell Wilson on its face acts as remarkable makeup.
Even with Seattle sputtering in the red zone, the lack of turnovers allowed them to consistently put points on the board, which they did five different times, even though four of those were field goals. Steven Hauschka was ready when called upon drilling four of his five attempts, with makes ranging between 27 and 52 yards and with lone miss the result of a block. It wasn't pretty and I even found myself surprised when I saw Wilson's final numbers, but pretty doesn't win football games- points do, and the Seahawks got enough of them to matter.
The running game, as I mentioned, struggled today and although Seattle's final 14 handoffs netted a pittance in the form of 20 yards, their first five plays from scrimmage were runs to Marshawn Lynch and covered a tone-setting 31 yards. It was an opening punch that Arizona quickly adjusted to, but the initial success helped open up the edge for Wilson the rest of the way.
On the next drive, the Seahawks smothered Arizona, forcing a three and out but it was the third play that was the most encouraging. Seattle brought an extra man on the rush and got to Drew Stanton quickly. Two defenders got their hands on him, throwing off the timing of the routes and forcing Stanton to scramble to his left. Stanton, to his credit, bought enough time to allow someone to get open against most secondaries but no opportunity ever presented itself and Earl Thomas eventually swatted Stanton's desperate pass away like a tetherball. It was a complete defensive effort that immediately reminded all of us how good this unit can be when at (or near) full strength.
On the Cardinals' next possession, they were bailed out by a dubious 37 yard pass interference call against Byron Maxwell that turned a certain punt into first down in field goal range and had the normally conversational Pete Carroll bulging with neck-vein anger at the official. Fortunately, the ball don't lie and Andre Ellington dropped a pass before Chandler Catanzaro pushed his short field goal attempt wide right, allowing Seattle to take back what was rightfully theirs without giving up their early lead. It was, I think, an important moment in the game and the Seahawks took that opening and turned it into three more points. In fact, they logged three field goals before allowing a the Cardinals to get one back but that was as close as Arizona would get.
The Seahawks defense continued to squeeze the 'Zona offense, allowing only one long drive all game long, a 15 play march that would have resulted in seven points had John Brown not dropped a third down touchdown pass with two 'Hawks bearing down on him. From that point on, it was simply academic, as the Cardinals would never again snap the ball in Seattle territory. The offense took a lot of steps backwards today (15 negative yardage plays, including penalties) but with the defense continually giving them a tilted field to work with, they stayed out of their own way enough to notch a comfortable win. The Seahawks played ruthlessly, albeit far from perfectly. The only mercy that Seattle showed the Cardinals was taking a knee on the doorstep of Arizona's goal line, a proverbial bullet to the head that stopped the suffering and kept this from being an even more lopsided 26-3 final.
Among the other things that stood out to me today:
-Passer Efficiency Differential moved to 8-3 in Seahawks games this season, as Wilson's 121.6 dwarfed Stanton's 54.8.
-And since we're on the subject, you know all the talk we heard about how much easier it's gotten to pass on the Legion of Boom this season? Well, here are the last five passer ratings against Seattle NFL median is 90.8):
-As I mentioned earlier, Wilson had a 40 yard run but he also had a 48 yard completion to Ricardo Lockette, who beat Patrick Peterson on a deep crossing route, giving the Seahawks terrific field position and causing Peterson to delete a number of texts. Can't really hang your superiority on always covering a #1 WR when Seattle's #6 just torched ya.
-Richard Sherman, for his part, was excellent again, completely erasing his side of the field and holding Michael Floyd, the Cardinals' best receiver, without a single catch. He also tackled extremely well, adding four of them and a pass break-up to his already impressive ledger. On the other side, Byron Maxwell was penalized twice but he really did play a sensational game. He broke up two passes, forced a fumble, and picked off Stanton to set up one of Hauschka's three-pointers. He has been so good this year when he's healthy.
-It's astounding how much better this defense is with Bobby Wagner in it. For the everyth time, he led the team in tackles (both he and Kam Chancellor had eight), burying his facemask in a bevy of sternums like he was taking body shots on Spring Break. He may literally make the Seahawks' defense the best in the NFL.
-Cliff Avril looked awesome. He spent much of the game sniffing the back of Drew Stanton's neck before finally sinking his teeth in on a big third down sack in the first half and adding a second a quarter later. THAT's the guy the team paid for. Will be interesting to see if they pay for him again. If he continues to play the way he did today, they may have to.
-Special teams got a little loony this afternoon. There was Catanzaro's missed short kick and Arizona's block of Hauschka's 49-yard attempt. And then there was Jon Ryan's schooling (50 yard average, two of three downed inside the 20) of Cardinals punter Drew Butler, who managed a flaccid 37.2 average on six punts. And those numbers don't even take into account DeShawn Shead's obliteration of one of his kicks, a block that led to some hapless Cardinal picking up the ball before boytoy Cooper Helfet slammed him to the ground like a bag of ice he was about to put in a cooler. It was a play that exuded physical dominance from start to finish.
-Helfet followed up his tackle with the game's only TD, a 20-yard catch and run that put the game away and made him the all-time touchdown leader among Baywatch actors. Tony Moeaki got the most run at the tight end position, however, as he finished with a team-high four catches on all four targets.
-The penalties were lopsided again today. After Seattle was flagged for 87% of last week's penalty yards, they finished with an only slightly more palatable 75% in this one. I know the Seahawks commit a lot of penalties but I have a tough time believing that they're really committing them at this absurd of a rate. I don;t think the refs are out to get the Seahawks or anything, I'm just hoping this is an outlying result that regresses over the remainder of the season.
-Seattle was underwhelming on third down (a distressing refrain), going 5/13. The good news is that they held the Cardinals to a 25% conversion rate on their 12 attempts.
-Holding the Cardinals to 4.2 yards per play is mighty impressive and partially masks the daunting realization that the Seahawks offense only managed 5.1. The path to the postseason and Super Bowl is sure to be marked with talented front sevens. Seattle will need to figure out how to be better against them than they were today.
With the win, the Seahawks move into a tie with Detroit (and if they lose tonight, Dallas) for the 6th and final playoff spot in the NFC*. Their postseason destiny is now firmly in their hands and, perhaps more importantly, they've reeled the division-leading Cardinals into tracking distance. Two games back with five to go is manageable, especially when one of them is head-to-head.
*Technically they're 7th but non-head-to-head tiebreakers don't mean much in November.
The Seahawks just dominated the team with the best record in the NFL and they did so on a day when nearly every offensive player not named Russell Wilson struggled. There are two important things to keep in mind when judging this team's immediate future: 1) the Seahawks are always within striking distance of a win and 2) they can beat very good teams even when they're not at their best.
Up next is an equally important game in San Francisco on Thanksgiving against a 7-4 49ers team that has won three straight. It's a dangerous game, and while a Carroll-led Seahawks team has still yet to be victorious there, it's one that Seattle is more than capable of winning. We've spent all year talking about how tough the final stretch of the season would be and now the Seahawks find themselves in the thick of it. At 7-4 and coming off a dominant defensive effort like this one, I'm feeling good about their chances.
Onward and upward.
One last thing: this week's episode of the Cigar Thoughts podcast will be held live at the Cigar Lounge at Silver Reef at 6:30pm on Tuesday. Consider this an open invitation to come on out. Danny has also added a Cigar Thoughts section on the site, if you ever want to browse through past articles and podcasts. Thanks.