Feels good, don't it? The Seattle Seahawks won their first game in nine months, providing a long overdue palate cleanser to a fan base that has spent most of the calendar year stressing over a heartbreaking Super Bowl loss, contract disputes, and a slow start to the new season. They did it in style, too, recording the first shutout of the 2015 NFL season in a stifling defensive performance.
Thematically, this game reminded me a lot of that string of victories that Seattle had down the stretch of last season; a dominant defense distracting attention from a less-than-consistent offense en route to a one-sided final score. And honestly, that's okay. Obviously it would be great to see the offense score more touchdowns but what matters most is that the combination of offensive, defensive, and special teamsive performances add up to a better overall effort than your opponents'. And for as obvious as that may sound, it's easy to lose sight of when we spend 165 hours a week reacting to three hours of actual game play. Not every game is going to be a tri-fold shellacking of your opponent and while things could've looked cleaner in this one, four-score margins of victory are accomplishments to be proud of no matter the circumstances.
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That said, the circumstances were weighted heavily in favor of the Seahawks in this one, as they carried the biggest point spread (15) of the NFL season so far into this game. Pay no mind to the oft-discussed 0-2 record, Seattle had everything going for them with the return of Kam Chancellor and Chicago's absence of Jay Cutler and Alshon Jeffrey.
Even so, the game got off to a middling start. I won't dance around it, the first half of this game was boring as hell, as the two teams managed a grand total of six points and fewer than 200 yards combined. That's not to say there weren't moments of importance, however, as Marshawn Lynch missed the first two series of the game with what sounds like a hamstring issue and left the game for good after just five carries. In addition to Marshawn's early injury, Brandon Mebane left in the first quarter with a groin injury and wouldn't return.
Offensively, the Seahawks couldn't get much going outside of a few crowd-appeasing tosses to Jimmy Graham. In fact, the 'Hawks didn't convert a single third down in the first half and managed just two scoring drives in the first two quarters. The first "drive" occurred after Pete Carroll pulled an if-you-can't-beat-'em-join-'em tip of the hat to Jeff Fisher when he had Tyler Lockett run a decoy route on a punt return. As Lockett sprinted towards the left sideline in an apparent effort to catch the wayward punt, Richard Sherman settled underneath it on the right sideline. And while Lockett fell masterfully on his ass pretending to field the phantom punt, Sherman careened down the other side of the field for 64 yards before being cut down in the red zone. That drive would go exactly nowhere and the first course of the Steven Hauschka banquet was served in the form of a 31-yard field goal to put Seattle up 3-0.
The Bears' next drive would end the same way they all would, with a punt- only this punt that may or may not have hit a Seahawks player on the leg before a Chicago player downed it around Seattle's 20. The call on the field was that the ball never made contact with a Seahawks player and the shadows played enough magic tricks on the review camera to make sure the call stood.
There was a whole lotta nothin' after that, as the teams politely exchanged punts for the next 20 minutes or so. That is, until Seattle got the ball back on their own 20 with under 3:00 to go. Finding a rhythm for the first time in the game, Russell Wilson peppered Jimmy Graham on consecutive plays to get the ball across midfield. After spinning their tires a few times, Seattle elected to go for it on 4th and short. To Mama Lynch's scornful disapproval, the Seahawks elected to pass- to her delight, it was a little flip pass to her son, who bobbled it twice before securing it in time to ostrich some poor bloke's cranium into the turf with a devastating stiff arm. Said poor bloke was Alan Ball, who bounced back by successfully defending back-to-back endzone fades against Jimmy Graham and Chris Matthews. Not bad, guy. Ball's resilience forced Seattle to settle for another short field goal on the last play of the half and they took an underwhelming 6-0 lead into the locker room, where the players could finally refocus through fruit snacks and checking their Instagrams.
The 'Hawks kicked the door down to start the second half, when pocket rocket Tyler Lockett took the opening kick a team-record 105 yards for his second return touchdown in three career games. Seattle confused some folks on draft day when they traded up to select the diminutive returner turned receiver-come-lately 69th overall giggidy. Well, he's only been on the field for about 100 plays and he's already justifying that draft slot.
Two drives later, Wilson continued to build off the momentum he and Graham created at the end of the first half, finding him twice more, including this touchdown that showcased every reason Seattle traded for him. Graham would finish with a team-high seven catches on a team-high eight targets for a team-high 83 yards (including this goofy one) and the offense's only touchdown.
Wilson, for his part, got off to his third consecutive slow start and responded with his third consecutive excellent second half. He finished with 20 completions on 30 attempts for 235 yards and the score, while adding 28 on the ground in the winning effort. For as uninspiring as the offense has looked this season, Wilson's overall line is fairly impressive. He's now 71/101 for 692 yards, four touchdowns, two interceptions, and a passer efficiency of 94.2, in addition to 106 yards on 16 carries. He may not be burning the rest of the league down yet, but he's creating enough heat to keep the Seahawks warm.
In the absence of Marshawn Lynch, Christine Michael, and Robert Turbin, and with Fred Jackson relegated to third down work, rookie and former fourth-stringer Thomas Rawls saw his first significant NFL action. It was the opportunity every young back waits for and Rawls wasted no time in leveraging it. Watching Rawls run is entirely different from the powerful slithering of Marshawn. Instead, it's like watching someone bowl with bumpers; setting off in a straight line with all the acceleration he could muster, Rawls ricocheted off defenders where Lynch would attempt to go through them. No matter how he deflected off of would-be tacklers, Rawls always found himself falling forward and his final line of 104 yards on 16 carries reflected that. It's worth noting that Rawls dropped the only pass thrown his way but all in all, it was a hell of a performance from a player many of considered to be an afterthought. In fact, Rawls now has almost as many yards this season (109) on 18 carries as Lynch does (132) on 38. Rawls' 6.1 YPC is on the verge of lapping Marshawn's 3.4 and while that's not anything remotely resembling a RB controversy, it is enough to instill some confidence in the coaching staff should Lynch ever need a fill-in in the future.
Jermaine Kearse bounced back after laying an egg last week to catch all six of his targets for 76 yards. This is what the team needs from Kearse: reliable, chain-moving receptions to extend drives and open up other options and that's exactly what he provided today. Helmet sticker for the former UW Husky.
The real story today, however, was the defense. As close to whole as they've been since late last season, the reigning best D in football finally looked the part in 2015. After three consecutive games in which they'd surrendered a fourth quarter lead, Seattle left no doubt in this one- putting a plastic bag over the head of the Chicago Bears and holding it tight until they stopped moving. It wasn't a beatdown like we've seen before- the Seahawks forced no turnovers and recorded just two sacks- but they did completely stifle the Bears' ability to move the football.
Chicago's final offensive tally was just that, as they finished with a pitiful 146 total yards split unevenly between the ground (98) and the air (48, woof). We all figured the Bears' JV squad would struggle in Seattle but the Seahawks' defenders made sure there was no doubt whose house it was.
It's difficult to say how much of an effect the return of Kam Chancellor had but there's no question that the entire unit looked more confident and cohesive than they had in their first two games. The result was 10 Bears possessions ending in 10 Bears punts, as Chicago became the first NFL team since the Paleolithic period to have every drive end by kicking it away. All of a sudden, this publicly maligned Seahawks defense is 7th in points per game allowed and 5th in yards per game allowed.
Picking out individual stars on the Seahawks defense is tough, as their effort was highlighted by blanket combo coverages and gang tackling but there were a few that stood out. The linebackers looked better than they had, with KJ Wright notching a team-leading 10 tackles and Bobby Wagner right behind him with seven and a sack. Jordan Hill wormed his way into the Chicago backfield on a number of occasions and Michael Bennett was his usual disruptive self. We didn't see a lot out of Seattle's corners- a good thing in this particular case- as Clausen was just 3/7 for 17 yards when targeting his WRs.
In all, this was as close to a complete effort as we've seen from the two-time defending NFC champs since their Divisional Round game against the Panthers last year. The offense is still sorting things out (just five touchdowns on the season) but they're moving the ball enough to be getting points on 13 of 32 drives, what with Hauschka going a perfect eight for eight on the season, including four for four this afternoon.
And while Lynch's slow start is less than ideal, the team has still managed 402 rushing yards on 86 carries this season, a healthy 4.7 yards per attempt. The O-line is transitioning from an open wound to an itchy scab. Eventually they'll be healthy tissue and when that happens, watch out. Like I've been preaching all along, this is an offense that is more concerned with establishing their will and identity early in the game than they are with whipping the ball around the field. And while that manifests itself in slow starts more often than we may like, it is no coincidence that Seattle routinely wears opposing defenses down and record the bulk of their yards and points in the second half. The offense isn't clicking yet but there are plenty of reasons to think they will.
The Seahawks are 1-2, tied for last in the NFC West and two games out of first. The funny thing about being three games into the season, however, is that 1-2 is also tied for second and the Seahawks have two games remaining against the only team ahead of them. We are starting to see this team put on the cape and cowl we've grown accustomed to seeing them don and it's my strong feeling that it won't be long before they're back to dishing out their special brand of brutal street justice.
Next week, the Lions pay a visit to Century Link for the Monday Night game and if you boo Golden Tate I will come to your house and personally bop you on the nose while your family watches. Onward, upward.
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The cigar du jour is an OSA Lot 46 from CAO, available at Famous Smoke. The OSA is an easy, tasty smoke that's oilier than most with a complex taste profile that changes as the stoagie gets shorter. Highly recommended.