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Seahawks enter playoffs, Browns used as welcome mat: Cigar Thoughts, Game 14

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The Seattle Seahawks clubbed their way through the Cleveland Browns and into the playoffs with a 30-13 victory.

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The Seahawks came into this game as arguably the hottest team in the NFL, with arguably the hottest defense, boasting unarguably the hottest QB-WR combo in the league this year and maybe ever. Combine that with welcoming the hapless Browns to Seattle and you get exactly what you'd expect.

A couple months ago, some friends and I went up to this haunted carnival deal in Canada. With no need to discuss what a baby I am when it comes to scary stuff, we can move right along to the part where I saw a stand with a pubescent carny advertising a free iPad to anyone who could climb his ladder. The ladder was made of rope and went up for about 20 feet at a ~20 degree angle. I watched contestant after contestant throw $5 away and never get higher than halfway. I couldn't figure out what was so difficult about it until I got closer. The tiny-handed attendant would hold the ladder taut still until the contestant got maybe six rungs up, then let go creating a bunch of slack and with it, an impossible venture given that they wouldn't let you hang on the underside of the ladder. Fiver after fiver fell for it while the poor orphan manning the booth feebly encouraged them along.

That's kinda how this game started. The Seahawks defense came into this game having allowed a grand total of nine points on three field goals over their last 21 drives. Undaunted, Johnny Manziel paid his Lincoln and hopped aboard. For the first few rungs, he looked great- cocksure and nimble, he scurried his way to seven completions on his first nine attempts for 64 yards and a touchdown. You could see the hope in his eyes, the blossoming greed for a free iPad that the NCAA couldn't take away.

That's when the Seahawks D took their grip off the ladder and while Manziel and the Browns offense clung momentarily in hopes of recovery, it wasn't long before they were forced to let go and fall to their unavoidable fate like so many suckers before them. After that hot start, Manziel went 12 for 23 for just 97 yards, no touchdowns, and a pick. Cleveland's 7-0 lead, which came on the back of an impressive 15-play drive, evaporated like a mud puddle on a summer sidewalk, as they were outscored 30-6 from that point on. We have spent so much time lately, rightfully so, issuing platitudes and superlatives to Seattle's white-hot offense but I want to start today with the defense, because they have been sensational.

Over the last few seasons, the Seahawks defense has garnered a reputation as a generational unit. This year, that rep has been tested hard, as they gave up all sorts of yards and points through the first month and a half of the season. Since then, though, they've been every bit as fearsome as the reputation that precedes them. The squad that has been lapping the field by giving up 14-15 points per game over the last couple of years has only given 13.6 points per over their last eight games. And while that streak includes games against stump-legged offenses like the 49ers and Browns, it's also included games against the top two offenses in the NFL in the Cardinals and Steelers. These dudes are balling out right now and it seems to be a different couple of folks shining each week.

With Kam Chancellor out for the week, dragonling Kelcie McCray simply came in and led the team in tackles, at least two of which would have done Darth Kam proud. Brandon Mebane, who's been solid if unspectacular all season, opened a cavern beneath the Browns' offensive line and swallowed up their ball carriers like a Sarlacc. Not only did he register a lewd sack on Manziel early, he clogged up the running game (along with former Brown Aytah Rubin) and at a reported 311 lbs, he chased down running back Duke Johnson Jr and tackled him 22 yards downfield.

Meanwhile, Marcus Burley showed just how good he can be at full strength, shoring up that fifth DB position with adhesive coverage as well as an interception and a sack(?). His nickel/dame-mate Jeremy Lane was great as well, logging four tackles and pushing his snout into the mix every chance he got.

In addition to the stand-ins having standout performances, the stalwarts were as solid and life-threatening as ever. Richard Sherman continued to defend his title, as I'm not sure Cleveland completed a single pass thrown his way. Earl Thomas played terrific sideline-to-sideline defense, only really called into action on the rare occasion when a loose play needed tightening up on the back end. Bobby Wagner and KJ Wright sucked the air out of the intermediate passing game like a vacuum seal and, when they forgot to line up offsides, the DE combo of Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, and Frank Clark harassed the shit out of JFF and crew all afternoon. This defense is playing as well as it ever has, which is to say it's playing the same way it does every season at this time of year.

Now, to the fireworks. Let me get this right out in the open- we are watching one of the most deathly efficient stretches of offense that the game of football has ever witnessed. Since their bye week, the Seahawks have scored 29+ points in every single game, averaging 33.8 PPG over that stretch and doing it without even registering very many drives. That's the craziest thing about all of this to me, the Seahawks, despite the incredible proliferation of points lately, still haven't gotten away from their shorten-the-game mentality, they're just doing it with absurd efficiency. Not counting kneel downs, the Seahawks are averaging 3.8 points per drive, a number so absurd it deserves some extrapolation. How good is 3.8 per drive? Well, the average NFL game features ~12 possessions per team, which means the Seahawks, if they had as many drives as the average team, would be scoring 45.1 points over their last six games.

It was more of the same today, as the Seahawks only had the ball seven times in which they weren't kneeling out a victory and turned that into 426 yards and 30 points. They punted once. The Browns defense did what they could but ultimately, they were trying to dam up a waterfall with popsicle sticks. Seattle averaged 7.5 yards per pass, 5.6 yards per run, and 6.2 yards per play overall. It was just chunk after chunk after chunk of home field getting picked up with each successive snap, a constant, repetitive bludgeoning with clubs of all shapes and sizes.

Everyone got in on the act today, with the stats getting sprinkled over the entire roster like sugar on so many donuts. On the receiving side, Doug Baldwin continued his historic stretch of teeders by logging scores on the first two drives of the game, giving him a staggering 10 in his last four games and a league-leading 13 overall. Jermaine Kearse broke out big time with a team-leading seven catches on a team-leading eight targets for a team-leading 110 yards while stocking stuffer Tyler Lockett continued to confound defenses with five catches, 55 yards and a TD on his seven targets.

All of that, plus a dusting of contributions from the likes of Luke Willson, Fred Jackson, et al, left QB cum laude Russell Wilson with yet another impressive stat line. Wilson, who came into this game riding an unprecedented four-game stretch of quarterbacking, continued his dominance by cramming the box score with 21 cpmpletions on 30 attempts, 249 yards, 3 TDs, and 0 INTs. In so doing, Russell Wilson became the first QB in NFL history to log five consecutive games with 3+ touchdowns and 0 interceptions. His total numbers over the last month are unmatched by any QB in any month ever-

110-148 (74.3%)
1,420 yards (9.6 Y/A)
19 TDs (12.8 TD% - this is an obscene number)
0 INTs
143.6 rating and
147 rush yards (7.7 YPC).

Cam Newton will likely win the MVP this season but for as much as I love Cam Newton (and I love Cam Newton), nobody in the world has played better football than Russell Wilson this year. Wilson has been plugged into the mainframe and everyone else are simply avatars that he's coding to do his bidding. There is no stopping Russell Wilson anymore; all we can do is hope that he rules mercifully.

Perhaps the biggest question surrounding these Seahawks today was how the workload would be split in the rushing game, and if they could even approximate the the type of rushing production they've enjoyed with Marshawn Lynch and Thomas Rawls over the last few seasons. Well, here's how the rushes were divvied up, with each runner listed in the order in which they received their first carry-

Derrick Coleman: 5 carries, 10 yards (2.0 YPC)
Bryce Brown: 9 carries, 43 yards (4.8)
Christine Michael: 16 carries, 84 yards (5.3 YPC)
Russell Wilson: 5 carries, 46 yards (9.2 YPC)

The Seahawks lost their All Pro running back this season. His undrafted replacement led the NFL in yards per carry. When he went down, the Seahawks still managed 185 yards on 33 carries (not counting kneels). So much of it has to do with the coalescence of the offensive line and I can't say enough about the job they've been doing *but* a lot of it also has to do with

That's right, C-Mike is back in effect and he looks primed to goon out the way he was always meant to. Django is on the loose and he's brought his gold chains back to the Emerald City. I, for one, couldn't be happier. For years, we've been waiting to see what a focused Christine Michael can do when allowed to carry a running game instead of courtesy carries here and there and today we finally got a glimpse of what that looks like. Michael hit every hole with the strength and fury of an ancient Greek champion and he felled opponents with each swing of his sword. Bryce Brown looked the part and I'd feel comfortable if he was the guy, but Bryce doesn't get my dick off the couch the way C-Mike's ferocious downhill savagery does.

Now listen, Cleveland's run defense is among the weakest in the league but the attitude with which Seattle's mangy crew of RBs ran this afternoon is indicative of the style necessary for extended success in Tom Cable's scheme. Nothing I saw from them today scares me moving forward.

Look, we can chop this up a thousand different ways but the inside of it is gonna look the same from every angle. The Seahawks are overcoming the obstacles that plagued them early in the season and all of the teeter-totters have begun to tilt in their favor. In some aspects, they've gone beyond figuring out what works and have progressed to the divine pursuit of perfecting them.

This win clinched Seattle's fourth consecutive playoff berth and the fifth of Pete Carroll's six year tenure. They are currently sitting in the 5th seed in the NFC as the head into their final stretch against divisional opponents (Rams, Cardinals). Like I said last week, what we're seeing now is what we've seen each of the last few seasons post-October. It would still be nice to see them shut down a high-profile offense to alleviate the last of our fears but it's likely they won't get a chance to do that until the post-season (assuming the Cardinals get locked into the #2 seed next week). So, until then, enjoy that the Seahawks are handling every piece of business that comes across their desk.

Some other observations:

~The Browns opened the game with a 15-play touchdown drive. It was really impressive and a little startling. The Seahawks calmly answered with a 14-play touchdown drive of their own, with Joe Montana Russell Wilson finding Jerry Rice Doug Baldwin for the score. Completely unfazed.

~Wilson found Baldwin for another score on the very next drive, making it 10 Baldwin touchdowns in a 30-drive stretch.

~Seattle's defense has allowed one touchdown in their last 29 drives.

~Steven Hauschka is now the 4th most accurate kicker in NFL history. It is important to appreciate what we have while we have it. His calm consistency is just another facet of the diamond.

~The Seahawks were 9 for 11 on third downs today (81.8%), not counting kneeldowns. They've now converted 41 of their last 61 third downs (67.2%). That's among the most efficient stretch of conversions ever.

~Seattle now has a third-down conversion rate of 46.1%, which, at the time of this writing, is the second highest number in the NFL. Their third down defense is 33.3%, fifth best in the league.

~In addition to their third down dominance, the Seahawks are the best 4th down offense in the league at 85.7% and the best 4th down defense in the NFL at 16.7%.

~The Seattle Seahawks have now held a lead in 62 consecutive games. That's a streak no one in the history of the league has come close to sniffing at.

I say it a lot but only because it hasn't stopped being true- we are witnessing a gilded era of Seahawks football and it is up to us to enjoy it for what it is for as long as it remains. Onward, upward.

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The cigar of the day is this pretty little Elegancia Corona from San Cristobal. You can get it at a discount from www.Famous-Smoke.com plus receive 15% off orders of $75 or more by entering promo code FIELDGULLS at checkout. Cheers!