This game was supposed to be a blowout and, if not that, at least a comfortable victory for the Seahawks. That supposition resulted in making Seattle the biggest favorites in Vegas this week, a 14-point favorite to beat San Francisco, was based on two assumptions: A) the 49ers are bad and B) the Seahawks are good. The former certainly looked to be true last week, but the latter was still in question. These two teams entered this game with zero touchdowns scored between them, a fact the hosts looked sure to erase right off the bat.
The Seahawks received the opening kick and embarked on the type of opening drive that give offensive coordinators priapism. Seattle ran 16 plays on their initial possession, eating up almost a half of the first quarter during their march. They converted three 3rd & longs plus a 4th down before finally petering out in the red zone. Blair Walsh calmly banged home the field goal and Seattle took a pleasant if not wholly satisfying 3-0 lead.
In fact, the ‘Hawks moved the ball well on three of their first four drives, holding the football for 19 of the game’s first 24 minutes. Unfortunately, those three good drives resulted in exactly six points, as Seattle’s endzone allergies kicked in whenever they sniffed a touchdown. From there, the rest of the Seahawks’ first half plays leaked straight into the bedpan, with the home team finishing the first two quarters averaging a shriveling 3.7 yards per play.
The pocket insecurity that plagued Wilson at Lambeau showed up again at Century Link Field, with Russell running into two early sacks, missing a wide open Tyler Lockett on 3rd down, and looking generally uncomfortable on most snaps. On one hand, you can hardly blame the guy. For the majority of his career, he’s had to play quarterback with only Tom Cable’s latest science fair project between him and a bunch of sanctioned QB killers. At this point Russ probably tries to flea the pocket every time the phone rings during dinner. On the other hand, Russ is generally regarded (and compensated) as among the elite quarterbacks in the league and it’s on him to do better than field goals.
Now, to be fair, the second field goal is not the direct result of skittish QB play. In fact, it looked for all the world that Seattle would end their TD drought when Wilson’s 3rd & goal pass sailed into, and out of,
Kasen Williams ’ Tanner McEvoy’s hands in the endzone. It was a contested ball, but only by definition, and definitely one that an NFL receiver should catch.
Meanwhile, the defense was completely smothering for the first 20 minutes or so, holding the Niners to 51 total yards on their first 18 plays. Bobby Wagner got an interception, Michael Bennett got a sack, and Pete Carroll excitedly soaked his headset with Trident-flavored spittle. Then the rain, which until then had been a mere drizzle, got heavier than a Dashboard Confessional fan site. Without anything resembling a passing game, the precipitation precipitated a shift in San Fran’s philosophy. Taking the game out of Brian Hoyer’s hands (the nerve), the 49ers turned to Carlos Hyde, and Hyde. went. off. He ripped off a one-cut 61-yarder to set up a field goal, then ripped off 29 more on 3rd& 12 to set up another one. Both times he managed to either elude or break early tackles before accelerating away from Seahawks defenders. The teams then headed to the locker room, each with 6 points, but very different feelings.
The third quarter was as wet and awkward as a 6th grade kiss, with both teams engaged in heavy but uncertain petting for the entirety of the period. The result was no points and even fewer yards. It is a quarter that deserves no mention, other than to say that it happened. At some point, Paul Richardson dislocated his finger so gruesomely that his bone broke through the skin.
The fourth quarter, however, began to look like something resembling NFL football, with the Niners putting together an impressive drive before a red zone drop killed their momentum. Hyde and rookie RB Matt Breida repeatedly gashed Seattle’s beleaguered front seven, who found themselves in the all-too-familiar position of spending most of the second half on the field. With the Niners kissing the collarbone of the season’s first touchdown, Marquise Goodwin ran a simple out route for what looked like a sure first down to set up 1st & goal with about nine minutes left. Instead, the well-placed pass bounced harmlessly off his hands and to the turf, forcing San Francisco to settle for a short go-ahead field goal.
Maybe that drop was the opportunity the ‘Hawks needed. Maybe it was the abatement of the rain that did it. Maybe the Niners defense was just worn down. Maybe Darrell Bevell stumbled across the playbook he used from 2012-14. Either way, something clicked in the collective mind of Seattle’s offense and they responded to their first deficit of the game by ripping off a 10-play, 82-yard drive fueled by read-option (imagine!) runs and the rascally maneuvering of a suddenly agile Russell Wilson. The field in front of Chris Carson shifted from an uphill bog to a downfield meadow, as he ripped off chunk gain after chunk gain.
As a result, Seattle found themselves in the red zone once more and for a while, it looked like they’d be consigned to the same fate every other RZ drive has suffered this year. After two nothing plays, Wilson dropped back on 3rd down, only to come face-to-face-to-back-to-hip with three San Fran pass rushers. Russ, clearly feeling himself, decided not to bail, instead working up and through the pocket with a nifty two-step that sent the defenders crashing into each other like cartoon bad guys. Russ slipped out to the left and, just as the final defender caught his ankles, fired a strike to Paul Richardson, whose finger bone had just recently tasted rain, in the front left corner of the endzone. I have no idea how Richardson caught that ball under the circumstances. I got a hangnail once and and literally Googled “how to be happy with 9 fingers”.
It was Seattle’s first touchdown in eight months, and after all that frustration, the team could finally roll over and have a cigarette. The post-coital glow was short-lived however, as Blair Walsh clanked his first extra point attempt off the right upright, keeping the game a three-point affair and stripping some shine off the team’s first truly successful drive this season. On the bright side, that missed extra point cost Seattle just a fraction of what it would’ve had they re-signed Ste(ph/v)en Hauschka.
From there, a rejuvenated Seahawks defense shut down the Niners’ final drive, turning it back over to the offense who didn’t mess around. They iced the game with a heaping dose of Chris Carson, who ran it 5 times for 25 yards on the final drive before giving Wilson the kneeldown honors and the Seahawks their 14th win in their last 15 home openers.
*Had the offense produced up to expectations, we’d probably view this defensive performance with a little more admiration. They suffocated the passing game, holding San Francisco to 89 yards on 27 attempts, but got sliced up on the ground to the tune of 159 at a staggering 8.4 yards per carry clip. In all, they allowed just 248 yards on 48 plays, giving up zero touchdowns and recording two sacks. As it was, the low-scoring contest magnified every slip-up and lent more cause for concern to the poor job against the run than you’d likely feel had it been the landslide most people anticipated. Still, 89 yards passing is an incredible performance against anyone under any circumstances.
*Russell Wilson finished with a respectable but unspectacular line, completing 23 of 39 passes for 198 yards, 1 TD, no picks, and an 80.9 rating. He missed badly on a few throws, which is hopefully the result of a slippery football and not a jumpy signal-caller. Most importantly though, Wilson finally tapped back into the part of his game that made him such a scary proposition to defend until last year; he ran. Not counting kneel-downs, Russ ran the ball 9 times for 38 yards. The yardage isn’t as important as the carries, however, because a Russell Wilson that’s an actual threat to run is a much more dangerous animal. At least three of his runs resulted in first downs and his mobility turned disaster into glory on the game-winner. I’ll call this an encouraging performance for Wilson, but well short of where he’ll need to be if he’s going to lead this team to another parade.
*Two of Seattle’s receivers were very good today, especially under the conditions. Tyler Lockett and Doug Baldwin were the only guys who got open on a regular basis, combining to turn 18 targets into 108 yards on 12 catches. You expect this from Doug, as he’s established himself as one of the game’s elite route runners, but it was a great reminder of what a weapon a healthy Tyler Lockett is. We, or at least I, tend to think of Lockett as a remarkable returner that can occasionally moonlight as a receiver capable of the occasional big play. In reality, Lockett is a devastating assignment for any cornerback, changing direction with the suddenness of a hummingbird. Hell, in his rookie season, he was the 2nd most efficient WR in the NFL. He was open all afternoon, with only missed throws and a couple of deflections between him and a monster day.
*Jimmy Graham was invisible again, recording one catch for one yard, bringing his season totals to 4 and 9 respectively. He’s still Jimmy Graham, and he is coming off the best TE season in franchise history, but this team needs to figure out how to unleash him and they need to do it quick. I can find one yard and barely adequate blocking for a lot less than $10 million.
*Tanner McEvoy had a horrible day. He was given two chances to contribute in a big way, and he dropped both of them. In addition to the missed TD opportunity, McEvoy dropped a wide open crossing route in field goal range on a huge 3rd down. I was cautiously defensive of the franchiose for keeping Tanner over Kasen because I trust that the coaches know / see way more than I do, but today’s performance makes the decision look indefensible.
*Chris Carson grabbed the lead running back job today and it’s gonna be tough for anyone to wrest it back. Per Carroll, this was essentially a test run for Rawls, and with Eddie Lacy inactive and CJ Prosise relegated to 3rd down duties, the stage was set for the rookie. He didn’t do much of anything in the first three quarters, but he wasn’t given much opportunity to. The OL struggled in the run game and Carson was stuck averaging about 2 yards per carry before the fourth. It was there that he really took over, finishing with a hard-earned 93 yards on 20 carries. Owning the fourth quarter with a dominant rushing attack was probably the only part of the offensive performance that fit the Pete Carroll philosophy, but today it was enough. All told, the ‘Hawks gained 135 non-kneeling rushing yards on 34 carries.
One last thing before I let you go. It’s clear that the Seahawks, with a world-class defense, a million Pro Bowlers and a franchise quarterback, are staring at a fully open Super Bowl window. It’s been open for a while, much longer than any team has a right to expect, but it won’t stay that way forever. That’s why, from here on out, we’re going to pass a verdict on whether Seattle’s performance was consistent with that of a championship contender. Last week’s was not, and frankly this week’s wasn’t either.
The pass defense was elite, and the team did finish with two outstanding drives to win the game, but the fact remains that they barely beat a poor team at home. 1-1 is not ideal, though it’s currently good enough for a share of first in the NFC West, and Seattle will have to be much better if they’re going to successfully re-summit the mountain.
Next week it’s the Titans, so the hell knows. Onward, upward.
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