The Seattle Seahawks systematically disassembled the Baltimore Ravens this morning; removing each remaining part of their team, examining it, and then discarding it into the fire en route to a 35-6 drubbing. This is why I have been preaching patience all season. You wouldn't judge a painting while the artist is sketching his outline, nor a house before the framers started, nor a novel by the author's notes.
Masterpieces take time and they often follow a circuitous and occasionally messy plan. After two months of what appeared to be haphazard wrestling with a soggy mound of clay, Pete Carroll's latest sculpture is rounding into form. All of a sudden, the team that couldn't score enough or get stops when they needed to is playing arguably the best football in the league.
I'll get the Jimmy Clause(n) out of the way here so we can get to what matters: yes, the Ravens were missing all of their best players and no, they were never going to beat this Seahawks team. That said, Seattle could have played down to their inferior opponent and tried to squeak out an ugly win like they did against the Lions and Cowboys earlier this year. Instead, the Seahawks barged into the Ravens' living room, kicked their muddy boots up on the couch, told their kids to zip it, switched the TV to RedZone, and messily ate the food that Baltimore had spent all morning preparing.
The catalysts for this annual evolution are many, but perhaps the most unlikely is a fellow by the name of Patrick Lewis. Ever since Lewis took over as the team's center, the Seahawks offense has been as good as any. In fact, this might be the best stretch of offensive performance in franchise history. Since the bye week, Seattle has scored 173 points, good for a mammoth 34.6 average and they're doing it with big, throbbing, explosive plays- plays made possible by an offensive line that is moving more cohesively and aggressively than ever. Maybe it's too simplistic to credit that change to Lewis but there's no doubting that they have gone from very bad to very good and that switch has coincided with his presence.
The Seahawks came out on their first drive and just kicked the Ravens square in the nuts, with Thomas Rawls gashing them for 47 yards on his first five carries. Then, on carry number six, Rawls got wrapped up, twisted, and dropped. That play resulted in a season-ending broken ankle and to be truthful with y'all, I feel sick about it, even while writing about a 29-point victory. Rawls, who has probably been the best running back in the NFL this season on a per-opportunity basis, has been the lightning in the Seahawks' storm that's been rolling across the NFL over the last month and a half. His loss will be the biggest test this team has faced in a season that's been full of them. Rawls will finish the season with an incredible 830 yards on just 147 carries, making him the league's leader in yards per carry at 5.6.
Rawls was replaced, rather poorly, by DeJuan Harris (42 yards and a fumble on 18 carries) and Fred Jackson (15 on seven). Despite the incredible throwing prowess of Russell Wilson, which we'll get to momentarily, the run game is still the crux of this offense and if defenses aren't forced to respect it, everything changes. The running backs just became the most interesting positional group on the field. This paragraph is for mourning. Take your time. There's no rush.
Alright, dry those pretty little eyes of yours because there was a whole game of Seahawks domination that we still need to get to. With the running game on hold, the 'Hawks turned to the quarterback with the gilt arm and he delivered marvelously. Wilson, who was coming off literally the best three week stretch from any QB in the NFL this season*, was somehow even better today. He completed 23 of 32 passes for 292 yards and five TDs, while stubbornly refusing to turn the ball over even once. That line includes a wide-open dropped TD by Luke Willson on a perfect pass. Over the last month, Wilson has flown as close to the sun as any QB ever has, posting the following numbers:
1,171 yards (9.9 Y/A)
*Russell Wilson led the league in completion percentage, touchdowns, and passer efficiency over the last three games. He is the only player in the NFL to do that over a three-week period at any point this year.
I don't know if Russell Wilson has evolved into a higher life form, unearthed an ancient secret of success, or just plugged a Game Genie up his butt, but it's like he's playing Madden on rookie level, except that he's torching real live NFL defenses. His passer rating on the season is now a sparkling 109.8, which would be the 14th highest single-season mark of all time and his new career rating of 101.3 is the second highest in NFL history. And oh yeah, he's got a legitimate chance of having the most productive rushing career of any QB in history, which isn't even a factor in passer rating. Wilson is just seeing ones and zeroes right now and is perfecting the hardest position in sport.
And with Russell Wilson whipping out his bands and making it rain stats, all the Seahawks receivers are scrambling off their poles to scoop the loot off the sticky bar room floor. The greediest of them, and I mean that in the best way possible, has been Doug Baldwin, who continues to outproduce every receiver in football. Last week, we talked about how Wilson to Baldwin has not only been the most efficient QB/WR combo in the NFL, they are among the most efficient combination of all time. Baldwin added to the opulence of his stat line with six more catches for 82 more yards and three more touchdowns on a team-leading nine targets. That makes it eight touchdowns in his last three games for a player that had recorded just 15 in his first 72. You hear players and coaches talk about making "the leap". I'd say Baldwin is making that leap, except I'm not sure when, or if, he'll ever land. Completely unguardable right now.
I haven't run all the numbers yet, but I'm pretty sure the second most efficient receiver in the NFL, on a per-target basis, is Baldwin's tiny teammate Tyler Lockett, who shone like diamond once again today. Seattle's sparkling rookie was targeted seven times, turning those opportunities into six catches for 104 yards and two more touchdowns. We are watching the universe give fiery birth to a star before our very eyes. The NFL game is slowing down for him, which is a scary thought for defenses that have to worry about everything else Seattle is doing right now.
Jermaine Kearse, who pops his head in and out of box scores like a whack-a-mole, was as solid as a Ned Flanders promise today, turning eight targets into seven catches for 74 yards. With Wilson flinging it the way he is, everybody is eating good.
Despite a homely 3.4 yards per rush today, the Seahawks offense blistered the Ravens defense with long, will-breaking drives. They continued their remarkable efficiency on third downs, going 8 for 12 as part of a 28-first-down effort and leaving Baltimore defenders out on the field to wilt. Everything is clicking right now and this team that has long prided themselves on shortening games and keeping scores low, can now put up points with anybody.
When a team is rolling the way Seattle is, the offense and defense feed off each other's momentum like a pendulum. When Wilson and Co. weren't scorching Baltimore's defense, the 'Hawks D was battering the Ravens O into submission. Clausen managed to turn 40 pass attempts into a respectable 274 yards but they were mostly meaningless, as the Ravens managed just two measly field goals. Their running game fared as well as everybody else's has lately, with hotshot rookie Javorius Allen held to 14 yards on eight carries. The Buck stopped here.
The few moments of success for the Ravens did come in the passing game, as they took advantage of a couple combo routes to DeShawn Shead's side, which is a touch worrisome, but they were unable to convert it into anything that mattered. Seattle's defense only managed one sack, courtesy of Michael Bennett, but forced two turnovers (a fumble recovery by Bobby Wagner and an interception from Richard Sherman) and kept Baltimore uncomfortable all day.
Sometimes, good defense looks like sacks and interceptions. Other times it just looks like disruption, and that's what we saw from the Seahawks today. Timing is of the utmost importance to an offense and merely throwing that timing off beat can be enough to snuff out a play even without an eye-popping individual effort. So many of Baltimore's plays unfolded with no chance of success, reflected in the fact that they only converted 3 of their 11 third down opportunities and although Seattle seemed to suffer some communication issues while a butt-hurt Kam Chancellor* was on the sidelines, it didn't amount to any tangible damage.
*Chancellor left early with a bruised tailbone and is reportedly questionable for next week's game.
What we're seeing from the Seahawks this November and December is the same thing we've seen from them over each of the last three Novembers and Decembers. It is the same arc of dominance that Carroll's USC teams experienced for a decade and until a Carrollian team has a bad second half of the season, I will continue to trust his system no matter how much they may struggle over the first few weeks.
An NFL season must be viewed as a whole and while living and dying with week-to-week results lies at the essence of fanhood, I implore every 'Hawks fan reading this to plant this version of the team firmly in the back of your brain as a much needed relief to early season struggles. This Seahawks team is unique and dynamic, unlike any incarnation we've ever experienced and with a lot of new moving parts. The first half of the season is for diagnosis, the second half for treatment and right now, nobody wants any of Seattle's medicine.
The Seahawks have now beaten consecutive opponents on the road with early kickoffs by a combined score of 73-13. They are blossoming from young reptiles into full grown dragons and are starting to test the limits of their destructive power. With leathery wings, blood-soaked talons, and breath that burns with the fire of a thousand suns, these Seahawks are the armor-scaled bringers of doom foretold about in the days of old.
The next group of bowling pins to find themselves at the end of Seattle's lane are the hapless Cleveland Browns. Pray for them. Until then, onward and upward my friends
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