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Seahawks pluck Cardinals' feathers, steal their worms, smash their eggs: Cigar Thoughts, Game 16

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The Seahawks waltzed into Arizona and stomped the fight out of the Cardinals en route to a 36-6 blowout victory.

Deuces
Deuces
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

When Bruce Arians waddled into the NFC West as the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, he boisterously declared that there was "a new sheriff in town". Well, that might be the case, but the outlaws don't seem to care. For the second consecutive year, the Seattle Seahawks sauntered into Arians' dusty frontier settlement, pillaging and harassing while the townspeople begged them to stop. Seattle showed no such mercies, however, openly mocking the sheriff as he feebly struggled to load bullets in his gun with his shaky hands and sweaty beef-fingers. Last year, it was 35-6. This year, 36-6. Same ragtime song, same curb-stomping dance.

The tenor for this game was set with Seattle's opening possession. After forcing the Cardinals to punt, the 'Hawks responded with a decisive, on-schedule drive spanning 12 plays, 88 yards, and over seven minutes. On that drive alone, Seattle accrued five first downs by four different players and appeared to take the early lead when Russell Wilson scooted into the endzone on a keeper. Unfortunately, Wilson slid instead of diving and was marked down inside of the one, giving Pete Carroll the opportunity to unsuccessfully challenge a call for his NFL-record 347th consecutive time. Pete Carroll is the dude on Maury Povich that demands a recount after finding out that he is the father. Anyhow, it was no matter- Bryce Brown plunged in for the first of many Seahawks scores and the field tilted in Seattle's favor the rest of the way.

I'll admit, after last week's game and with Seattle stuck as a wild card team either way, I wasn't sure how ferocious the Seahawks would be in this one. I'll never doubt that again, as the 'Hawks let all the Rottweilers off their chains and turned them loose in the Cardinals' roost. For the remaining 50 minutes, this game was nothing but torn feathers, tiny discarded beaks, and a bunch of fangs glistening with avian blood.

The Seahawks would score on each of their first five drives and seven of their first eight, with the lone exception being Steven Hauschka's first true missed field goal of the season*. Brown's TD was followed up by a 52-yard field goal, which was followed by a Will Tukuafu touchdown catch capping an 11-play, 80-yard drive which was followed by an eight-yard touchdown pass to Chase Coffman (because why the hell not Chase Coffman, when you really think about it?) after a massive Tyler Lockett punt return, which was followed by a Jermaine Kearse TD reception after yet another monster run back by Lockett. The Seahawks scored 30 points before Cardinals fans had finished their first beer, with the kickoff team running gassers every few minutes like they had shown up late for practice.

*Over the last two seasons, Steven Hauschka is 3 for 7 on field goals in Arizona (42.9%). Everywhere else, he's 57 for 61 (93.4%).

Russell Wilson controlled this game like a maestro, completing 13 of his first 15 passes for 128 yards against Arizona's vaunted secondary, including three touchdowns, for an early-game rating of 141.8. That's right- Wilson threw three touchdowns before he threw three incompletions against a defense that held Aaron Rodgers and the Packers to 77 yards passing just last week. After spending last Sunday (and most of the season) scrambling for his life, Wilson pulled up the Barcalounger this afternoon and calmly distributed completions amongst his receivers like a content dad passing out rewards for good grades. He was calm, decisive, and pocket-aware. In short, he was what he's been this season: the best quarterback in the NFL.

On the flip side, Carson Palmer had all the success of a marble in Hungry Hungry Hippos. Besieged from every angle, Palmer was fortunate to survive the few drives he did play in the maelstrom the 'Hawks D created. Fortunately for Arizona's storky QB, his shiny head coach mercifully threw in the towel before the Seahawks did Palmer like Drago did Creed. Palmer entered the game 4th in yards, 3rd in touchdowns, 2nd in passer rating, and 1st in yards per attempt. He left after 25 passes netted him a total of 129 yards and a 24-point deficit. Check it:

Carson Palmer, 2015: 64.5% completion rate, 8.9 Y/A, 34 TDs, 10 INTs, 13 Ws, 2 Ls
Carson Palmer, today: 48% completion rate, 5.2 Y/A, 1 TD, 1 INT, 0 Ws, 1 L

Palmer wasn't just taken down a peg by the Seahawks today, he was reduced to the equivalent of Brandon Weeden on a bad day. Everybody got a piece, too. Jeremy Lane picked him off and would have had another one about five minutes later had DeShawn Shead not heroically dove to bat it away from him. Richard Sherman allowed a short catch on the first play from scrimmage before entering stalk-your-soul-into-the-afterlife mode, shutting down an entire zip code while breaking up two passes and talking more trash than Oscar the Grouch. It didn't matter which receiver they threw at him, either. Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, John Brown- may as well have lined up a sea cucumber across from Richard Sherman today.

After Palmer was mercifully lifted from the game, he was replaced by Drew Stanton, who stood as much chance as the tied-up goat in Jurassic Park. Stanton's stint lasted 20 dropbacks and netted 76 yards. He completed just eight passes- well, ten if you count the ones to Shead and Earl Thomas. Seattle rarely blitzed that I saw, content instead to litter Arizona's passing routes with landmines while the defensive line sliced up AZ's OL. Cliff Avril shared a sack with his feast-mate Michael Bennett before hogging a second one all to himself while Ahtyba Rubin and Jordan Hill shot all trespassers on site. The Cardinals running game, which came into this one ranked 6th in the NFL, limped their way to a pitiful 27 yards on 13 carries. Their longest run was five yards.

Seattle's rushing game, on the other hand, got right back on track. Prodigal son Christine Michael ran with the righteous fire of God in his heart, hammering his way to 102 yards on 17 carries. He hit the holes hard and defenders harder. He finished forward on every run and left his imprint on a half-dozen sternums in the process. Every time the camera zoomed on his face, you could see him smoldering with desire, eager to deliver on the broken promises his talent made during his first go-round with Seattle. We're all hoping Marshawn Lynch is back next week, but Michael is showing that he can handle his shit when called upon to do so. My jowls are wet at the thought of a motivated Christine Michael sharing 30+ touches per game with a healthy Thomas Rawls next season.

With the Seahawks dominating both sides of the ball throughout, Seattle's diminutive rookie receiver decided to make the special teams battle his own personal playground. Tyler Lockett showed his Pro Bowl stripes were properly earned, turning his four first half punt returns into nearly as many yards (139) as Arizona's offense managed in the same amount of time (147). Those numbers would have been even more absurd had his first gigantic return not been called back on an iffy hold. Lockett teleported his way through the Cardinals' coverage team, calmly snapping tibias with jukes, almost as an afterthought, while his eyes lined up the next would-be tackler to humiliate. The only way to trace his path was to follow the rapidly assimilating trail of re-condensing atoms as it snaked its way down the field.

As a team, the Seahawks looked the best they have all season, and just in time, too. They'll enter the playoffs as a heavily armed juggernaut, coming off wins in six of their last seven games and eight of their last 10. They've outscored their last seven opponents by a savage 224-98 tally. That's 70% of the total points and an average final score of 32-14. They just kicked the shit out of arguably the best team in the NFL, on the road, and they did it without Kam Chancellor, Marshawn Lynch, and Russell Okung. Now, practice your climax-control while imagining this team with those guys back in the fold.

Right?

While you're cleaning up, let's take a look at some of the more prominent accomplishments the Seahawks had this season:

-Russell Wilson may not be the best football player on the planet, but there wasn't a human on earth that played better than he did this year. Before spending the fourth quarter snacking on peanut-butter-covered celery and listening to Raffi, Wilson set Seahawks franchise records for yards (4,024), touchdowns (34), and passer rating (110.1). He became the first Seattle QB to throw for 4,000 yards and he did it one season after rushing for a franchise-record 849.

He finished the season with the following numbers, accompanied parenthetically by their NFL ranks-
Completion %: 68.1 (2nd)
Yards Per Attempt: 8.3 (4th)
Touchdown %: 6.9 (2nd)
Interception %: 1.7 (5th)
TD/INT Rate: 4.25 (2nd)
Passer Rating: 110.1 (1st)

Russell Wilson has had the greatest two-month stretch, statistically speaking, of any QB in history and the result was him becoming the first Seahawks signal-caller to lead the NFL in passer rating. The Seahawks are now 46-18 under Russell Wilson -- 52-20 if you include playoffs -- which is the most wins in NFL history during a QB's first four seasons. Think about that: since turning the franchise over to a 5'11" rookie quarterback drafted in the third round, they've averaged 13 wins per season. And they're not done. Those 46 regular season wins are exactly twice the amount that Seattle won in the four years immediately preceding Wilson's arrival.

-Doug Baldwin scored a franchise-record 14 touchdowns this season after recording just 15 in his first four. Twelve of Baldwin's TDs came from the slot, which ties him with Randall Cobb for the most touchdowns caught from the slot in a single season since Pro Football Focus started keeping track. Something dramatic changed in the relationship between Wilson and Baldwin this season, as they've been the deadliest QB-to-WR combination in the NFL over the last half season. That connection has also resulted in Seattle going from a mediocre third-down offense to the most lethally efficient one in the NFL since Week 6.

Baldwin's 76% catch rate is #1 in the NFL. I don't know if this hot streak is an outlier or not, I'm just hoping it continues for oh, I don't know, four more games.

-Back in August, I predicted that at some point, Seattle's first two draft picks this season would be Pro Bowlers. Well, it's five months later and thanks to Tyler Lockett, we're halfway there. We've all seen his innate ability to return kicks at an elite level, but becoming a legit NFL wide receiver takes time. Well, it's supposed to at least. Lockett will finish his rookie season with the fourth highest catch rate (74%) of any WR in the league and Wilson absolutely does not hesitate to target him in coverage, which is perhaps the truest sign of a receiver's arrival.

-As mentioned above, Baldwin and Lockett rank 2nd and 4th in the NFL in completion rate when targeted. They are both 5'10". Their quarterback is 5'11". Oh yeah, Jermaine Kearse finished 6th. Just absurd.

-Despite starting four different running backs this season, the Seahawks still managed to finish third in rushing yards with 2,268. They have now rushed for more than 2,000 yards in four consecutive seasons.

-This season, the Seahawks lost their All Pro running back to injury. Then they lost their All Pro tight end. Then they lost the NFL's leader in yards per carry. They have four offensive linemen playing their position for the first time. Their top receivers are a 3rd round rookie and a bunch of dudes who weren't drafted. They finished as the 4th highest scoring team in the NFL, despite playing at the fifth slowest pace in the league.

-When Drew Stanton uncorked a fourth down garbage time pass towards the endzone on Arizona's final drive, the result may have seemed innocuous. DeShawn Shead picked that pass off, denying the Cardinals a courtesy touchdown and, more significantly, securing their fourth consecutive season in which they've led the NFL in fewest points allowed. The 277 they gave up this year was a smidgen ahead of the 279 allowed by the Bengals. Four straight years being the best in the world at the thing defenses care about the most. And the team knew it, too, as the sideline began celebrating madly after the pick.

It's just a reminder that all of our talk regarding the defense falling off this season says a lot more about our expectations than it does of them. Were there some seriously frustrating hiccups along the way? Definitely. Is this defense as good as the 2012-2014 bunch? Probably not. Do they give up more explosive plays? Assuredly so. And yet, 17.3 PPG is the number, and no one is better.

-The Seahawks allowed exactly 1,300 rushing yards this season. That's #1 in the NFL. This is the first time in Carroll's tenure that they've led the league in this category. They outrushed their opponents by 968 yards. Only nine running backs in the league had more than 968 rushing yards.

-The Seahawks pass defense finished with the 5th best passer rating against this season. They're 2nd in pass yards allowed and 4th in yards per pass allowed. Think about where this team was after Week 6.

-Seattle's defense had as many interceptions this year (14) as passing touchdowns allowed. Think about that for a second. The 14 TDs was the lowest in the NFL.

-Seattle Seahawks defensive ranks:
Rush yards: 1st
Pass Yards: 2nd
Total Yards: 2nd
Scoring: 1st

-The Seahawks finished the year with the 3rd best third-down conversion rate in the NFL and best fourth-down conversion rate. Their defense allowed the 4th lowest third down conversion rate in the NFL and the lowest 4th down conversion rate.

-The final rankings aren't officially out but Seattle will finish as the #1 DVOA team in the NFL for the fourth consecutive year. I've linked to the description but basically, DVOA is a highly-predictive measure of overall performance, as it relates to strength of opponents. The 'Hawks are now the only team in history to win it four years straight.

Look, this is why I wasn't freaking out after last week's loss. It was a weird combination of events that led to a yucky result but I said then what I believe now: that game didn't change anything about this team. Pete Carroll Seahawks are now 14-4 following a loss over the last four seasons, which is just crazy. This team just played the best game of the season and I promise you that they are the last squad any team wants to see rolling into their 'hood come playoff time.

Perhaps most importantly, I don't think there were any major injuries and reinforcements should be arriving shortly. The Seahawks are playing better football than anyone else in the world right now. Who wants some?

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