In the game of the season, the Seattle Seahawks defeated the Houston Texans in a thrilling back-and-forth game, 41-38. Captivating quarterback play from both sides highlighted the game, with Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson going back and forth like they were playing Madden. By the end of the game, there was career-best performances from both Wilson and Watson, as well as Paul Richardson -- while tight end Jimmy Graham silenced criticism and trade rumors emphatically.
The win sees Seattle move into first place in the NFC West at 5-2, and winners of four straight. With Washington coming to CenturyLink next Sunday, the Seahawks have a tremendous opportunity to start taking ahold of the NFC.
Russell Wilson’s career day
In the best game of his career, Wilson carried an utterly one-dimensional offense up and down the field, ending the game with a career-high 452 passing yards, as well as leading the team in rushing with 30 yards on four carries. He completed passes to eight different receivers, and his lone mistake was an interception late in the game. The NFC is wide open this season, and with Wilson playing the best football of his career, Seattle is going to have a real shot at home field advantage, and Wilson will have a real shot at MVP.
You really can’t say enough about the impact Richardson has had this season. Following Jermaine Kearse’s trade, he had to step up and be a reliable starting wide receiver for the first time in his career. And has he ever delivered! He had the best game of his career Sunday, catching six passes for 105 yards - including a beautiful 48-yard grab to set up the winning touchdown - and two touchdowns. Another touchdown was negated due to a flag, but he deserves credit for making a tough catch on the play regardless.
What impressed me most about Richardson today was how well-rounded he played, winning on digs, comebacks and in the ever-important scramble drill. In Wilson’s rookie season, Sidney Rice’s catch radius was a huge plus, and Richardson is providing that kind of target for Wilson this season. He’s become a legitimate outside receiver in 2017, and will be paid as one -- be it by the Seahawks or another team.
Keeping Michael Bennett fresh
When Seattle’s defensive line was at its deepest in 2013, Michael Bennett played 57.5-percent of defensive snaps, allowing him to remain fresh and impact the game every time he was on the field. In recent seasons, that number has ballooned up towards 80-percent, and it has impacted his effectiveness.
It was clear early this season they wanted to play him less, with David Bass and Frank Clark often playing early downs, but following Cliff Avril’s injury he’s been forced to be an every-down player again. Sunday’s game was a good indicator of what we can expect moving forward, with Dwight Freeney getting playing time immediately, and Marcus Smith, Branden Jackson and Nazair Jones rotated in as well. Whether it was his foot injury healing, or playing less, he looked livelier today and picked up a sack as well as a big tackle for loss to end Houston’s sixth drive of the game. If they can get him back down between 60 and 70-percent playing time for the rest of the season, they’ll have the best version of Bennett in January.
Despite Jeremy Lane returning from injury Sunday, Justin Coleman held onto his slot-corner spot and was the first on the field in nickel packages. After Coleman was beat for a first down on the Texans’ second drive, Lane was back in at nickelback for Houston’s third possession, but was flagged for pass interference. That essentially ended the nickelback rotation, with Coleman playing extensively throughout the rest of the game, and even picking up a sack in the second half.
In Lane’s absence, Coleman passed every test and earned playing time even upon Lane’s return. Sunday’s victory changed little in that regard, and he should remain in the lineup moving forward.
Heading into week eight, the Seahawks’ defense was frustratingly unbalanced. They’re dominant against the pass (fifth by DVOA) but struggled mightily against the run, ranking 23rd in the league in run defense by DVOA. With the exception of a couple big runs, they mostly held the Texans’ run game in-check on Sunday, holding Alfred Blue and Lamar Miller to 75 yards on 26 carries (2.8 yards per carry), while Watson added 67 on the ground. Most importantly, they showed up when they absolutely had to, getting the Texans off the field late in the fourth quarter, allowing Wilson to march down the field a final time.
There’s little reason for Seattle’s defense to be struggling like they are against the run, and they’ll have the chance to build on Sunday’s game next week against Washington’s 22nd ranked running game by DVOA.
Countering the best game of Wilson’s career was perhaps the worst running performance ever during Pete Carroll’s time in Seattle. They ran the ball 21 times for 33 yards, good (bad?) for 1.6 yards a carry. If you take away Wilson’s rushing numbers, that becomes 17 carries for three yards. Yet they remained committed to the run, often stalling or effectively ending drives by losing three yards on a first or second down. In comparison, the Seahawks’ passing attack averaged over 11 yards per play.
Seattle is a passing team who remain committed to the run, despite being completely unable to run the ball with any success. As long as the backfield is full of also-rans, the Seahawks’ offensive identity needs to become one of a passing team, and allow Wilson the opportunity to win on a weekly basis.
Frank Clark, world-wrecker
Clark has been an absolute force since Avril was lost for the season, and was at the head of an emerging pass rush on Sunday. He had seven pressures in the first half alone, and ended the game with two sacks, while a third was negated due to a Texans timeout. Between Clark, Sheldon Richardson, Paul Richardson and Graham, GM John Schneider is going to have difficult decisions to make this offseason. The way Clark has been playing, his re-signing is quickly becoming a no-brainer.
Odds and Ends
- Richard Sherman got his first two interceptions of the season on Sunday, adding to Earl Thomas’s second career pick-six. With DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller spending a good portion of the game torturing Sherman and Shaquill Griffin, it was encouraging to see both players consistently respond. Griffin had an absolutely incredible pass breakup, able to locate the ball and break get it out of Hopkin’s grasp with one hand. Griffin’s play is getting more impressive every week, standing out in a particularly impressive cornerback class.
- Early on against Houston, it seemed like it was going to be a 1-2 of Eddie Lacy and J.D. McKissic, with Thomas Rawls not even getting his first carry until under five minutes remaining in the first half. But fittingly, he ended up leading Seattle’s ‘backs in snaps with 41, McKissic followed with 16 and Lacy with 12. I don’t think the Seahawks have a clue what they are doing with their backfield right now.
- Earlier this week, the team made a point of saying Germain Ifedi’s penalty issue was something he was aware of and that they were working on. On Sunday, he ended a drive with two flags in three plays. He’s become serviceable as a right tackle, but his flags are a major issue that needs fixing.
- Dwight Freeney had a half sack on Sunday, because he is ageless and incredible. Additionally, Branden Jackson continues his fine form since being added to the active roster. Seattle’s sack numbers haven’t reflected the quality they have on the defensive line, but they are heating up now.
- A day that began with Graham trade rumors ended with a two touchdown game from the all-NFL touchdown maker -- including the winner. Contenders like the Seahawks do not trade players like Graham mid-season, and Sunday was a great example of why.