Much was made, leading up to this game, about these two teams’ newfound running game. The Lions and Seahawks were two of the most dreadful rushing teams in the NFL last year, but came into this game each ranked in the top five in 2018. It’s been a surprising about-face for both franchises and I was super curious to see how that element of the game was gonna play out.
The game started with the ball in Seattle’s hands, and they went about their business the way they have during their impressive last month. They ran the ball on their first four plays from scrimmage, and even notched a couple of first downs before a promising drive was snuffed out with a 3rd down sack. It’s the type of play calling that drove me bonkers during the first month of the season but which has grown on me as the team has increased both the complexity and effectiveness of their ground attack. Nonetheless, it gave Seattle a couple of mini wins before kicking it away.
The first score of the game came on the 13th play of Detroit’s initial drive when Seattle chose to rush three on 3rd & 8, which I don’t hate. The thing is, you’re trading pass rush for coverage, and with eight guys tracking five receivers, you should feel pretty good about your chances. Stafford escaped some light pressure and cocked his doughy arm back for a bomb. Here’s the deal though, If you do decide to drop eight, you better make sure no one gets behind you. It’s a memo everyone except Tedric Thompson received, as he suddenly found himself backpedalling faster than a politician answering a follow-up question. Meanwhile, Marvin Jones Jr sprinted past him and Stafford dropped the ball right over Thompson into the hands of his big play receiver to make it 7-0.
Seattle would not relent, however, as they continued to blast away on their next possession with their suddenly monstrous offensive line and bionic starting running back. Carson notched 42 yards on 8 carries during those first two drives, and however you feel about the old school notion of delivering body blows with the rushing game, I hope we can all agree that it’s just a bunch of fun to see a juggernaut like Carson actually have some room to do his thing. The real reason I’ve come around on the Seahawks’ offense, however, is their embrace of the play-action passing game.
After moving the ball inside Detroit’s 25, Russell Wilson deftly faked a handoff to his right, then slid back to his left. Sizing up the defense, Wilson saw a young child breaking free towards the back corner of the end zone. He quickly whistled a pass in that direction, and Tyler Lockett safely cradled it for the tying score.
As Detroit’s offense got ready to answer, fallen angel Ameer Abdullah careened upfield with the kickoff. That’s when Tedric redeemed himself by knocking the ball free, where it was scooped up by Barkevious Mingo. A short time later, Wilson was unleashing a pass up the right sideline for David Moore, who already had an impressive first down catch on a third down stick route to his name.
Moore worked his way inside of the defender at the pylon, leapt above his inferior opponent, and playfully batted the ball to himself as the cornerback flew out of bounds. Moore stayed in, snagged the ball out of the air, and sauntered into the end zone with the lead. It was just the 11th target of Moore’s young career and the 4th(!) TD. And he wasn’t done; not by a long shot.
After another defensive stop by the Seahawks, Wilson and Co found themselves facing 3rd & 7 deep in their own territory. What happened next is the most sincere statement of confidence a QB can express towards a receiver. Even with a defender draped all over Moore, Russ fired it high and tight in his direction about 25 yards downfield. Moore elevated above the cornerback, turned around, and pinned the ball to his shoulder pads before taking two backwards steps and crashing to the ground. The ball squirted free and was originally ruled incomplete but Pete Carroll’s challenge was vindicated by the NFL’s new common sense catch rules and the completion stood.
That huge conversion led to another long drive, one that ended with a phenomenal contested catch in the end zone by welcome to Seattle Ed Dickson. On this one, the pass was actually under thrown and would have been in danger of being picked off had Dickson not reached over the defender like a giant bear and snatched it from in front of poor guy’s face. All of a sudden it was 21-7 good guys and, after yet another defensive stand, Seattle swaggered to the locker room with a two-score lead. In between all the TD passes was a steady, unbroken rushing game. Like waves against a sandy shore, Chris Carson methodically eroded the Lions defense and willpower with explosive, bruising runs.
The third quarter was largely uneventful, which is just fine when you’ve got a two-TD lead, but the fourth quarter had plenty of excitement. One concern I had once Seattle got up by a couple scores was that Brian Schottenheimer would get overly cautious with the play calling. Those fears were put to rest, however, when Wilson dropped back on another play-action and uncorked a parabolic pass down the left seam to (who else?) David Moore. Moore hauled it in over his shoulder, which set up a fuck-you TD from Chris Carson a couple plays later.
On this one, Carson took a draw up the middle and shook free of a couple tacklers at the line of scrimmage. Free of that pesky debris, Carson squared his shoulders, adjusted his sights, and squared up the two defenders protecting the goal line. Like an attack dog let off the leash, Carson hurled himself at the would-be tacklers and bowled them both over into the painted turf. It was a spirit-breaking TD and it gave the visitors a commanding 21-point lead.
The Lions weren’t all the way done, and they should be credited for the fight they still had in them. Moving the ball across midfield, it appeared that the Seahawks had stopped Detroit yet again when a desperate Stafford heave wobbled harmlessly to the turf. Unfortunately, Jacob Martin was hit with a you-gotta-be-kidding-me-how-is-that-a-penalty? roughing call to keep the drive alive. That led to a Jones Jr’s second TD grab of the season when he found the back right window against Seattle’s Cover-2 defense.
The score kept the Lions’ hearts beating, and a rarely forced three-and-out on the ensuing possession made their blood pump even stronger. In fact, as Stafford started hitting Jones Jr over and over again, it looked like they might actually put a scare into the ‘Hawks. Then Frank Clark happened.
Clark, who is playing as well as just about any edge rusher in the league this year, harassed Stafford all day long. This time, however, he finally got home, crashing down on Detroit’s franchise Muppet and knocking the ball loose before pouncing on it. From there it was all over but the credits.
The Lions actually put together one more drive aided by an enormously questionable 50-yard pass interference penalty. Then, with first and goal from the three, Stafford ran a hurry-up play and waggled laboriously to his right. He tried to zip a pass into the near corner of the end zone, which would have been fine if Justin Coleman wasn’t firmly planted in his way. Coleman plucked the ball out of the air with his toes in bounds at the 1. It was Seattle’s 16th takeaway in 7 games, and it all but sealed their biggest win of the season.
The only downside to the play is that it pinned Seattle at their own doorstep, which is exactly where they still found themselves three downs later. The punt team came out and snapped the ball to wunderkind Aussie Rules player Michael Dickson, who took it with his heels just inside the back of the end zone. So far, so normal. But instead of booting it away, Dickson drifted along the back line to his right. Then, all of a sudden, he tucked the ball under his arm and sprinted down the right sideline against a shocked Lions D for the year’s unlikeliest first down.
It was a big swinging dick move from Pete Carroll and I couldn’t love him more for it. It salted the game away for certain, giving the Seahawks their fourth win in their last five games and pushing their record to 4-3.
*I can’t believe I’m saying this but I think I might actually love Brian Schottenheimer. A month ago I was ready to burn the whole thing down, fire all decision makers, and hire some 17-year-old Madden champ to call plays moving forward. What I didn’t do is afford Schottenheimer the same early-season grace that I typically gave Darrell Bevell over the last several years. Part of that is because Bevell had a history of success that Schottenheimer simply doesn’t, but even so I was too quick to judge.
The Seahawks offense that’s been taking the field over the last month has been a beautiful display of power, balance, and explosion. In short, it’s been everything the Pete Carroll ethos dictates, and it’s kept the ball out of Seattle’s opponents’ hands. It’s tough to score when you don’t have the ball and the Seahawks have done a phenomenal job of extending drives with steady yardage and high-efficiency third down production.
This team is not the Chiefs or Rams, but I don’t think they need to be. The machine is running smoothly and maybe the biggest reason why is the savage, beastly performance of Mike Solari’s offensive line. We already knew Duane Brown and Justin Britt were good, but this OL has transformed behind the terrific play of JR Sweezy and new personal favorite DJ Fluker. We debated Tom cable for far too long. He stinks. Solari rules.
*Perhaps most importantly, this Seattle offense has finally given Russell Wilson room to do what Russell Wilson does best: create. Coming off a superb performance in London, Wilson picked right back up on American soil. He had as many TDs in this one (3) as he did incompletions. He only threw it 17 times but he turned those into a staggering 248 yards. He made some absolutely preposterous throws and was as elusive and decisive as ever.
Over the last five games, in fact, Russell Wilson has been as efficient as any quarterback on the planet. Get this: in going 4-1 during that stretch, Wilson has completed 79 of 113 passes (70%) for 1032 yards (9.1 Y/A), with 11 TDs and 1 INT. All of that adds up to a passer rating of 127.2, which is elite by any standard. And he’s done it all as a purely passing quarterback.
We are seeing a fully actualized Russell Wilson, and it is a beautiful thing to behold. He may be the Uncanny Valley incarnate, but his sociopathic determination to be considered among the all-time greats has Seattle right in the thick of the playoff race for a seventh consecutive season. Just incredible.t back up o
*David Moore only got 4 targets today, but he turned them into 4 catches for 97 yards and a touchdown. He may never put up the type of volume stats that make waves outside of Seattle but it’s hard to imagine doing any more with one’s opportunity than Moore has. 14 targets, 11 catches, 221 yards, 4 TDs. When targeting Moore, Wilson has a passer rating of 158.3 which, as many of you know, is literally the highest number the rating model allows for. There is not a more efficient play in the NFL right now than Russell Wilson throwing to David Moore.
*Tyler Lockett keeps flying under the radar, and not just cuz he’s 4’10”. He was only targeted twice today but he caught both of them for 34 yards and his 6th score of the year. He doesn’t even rank in the top 100 in the NFL in targets but he’s 3rd in receiving TDs. He’s turned 34 targets into 25 catches for 394 yards, and Russ’ rating when targeting him Just an absolute monster of efficiency.
*Incredibly, Doug Baldwin has simply become another cog in the apparatus. Three targets, two catches, 26 yards. I don’t know if he’s still bothered by that knee, but he looked sensational last week. I’m not complaining, and I still think he’s an incredible player, but it’s pretty cool that this offense can hum along the way it has without needing him to show out every week.
*The last game saw a fairly even distribution of touches between Carson, Mike Davis, and Rashaad Penny. Not today though. No, this morning’s programming was the Chris Carson Show, as he dominated the backfield competition. Carson turned 27 touches into 124 yards and a TD while Davis was limited to 35 yards on 11. Penny was limited to return duty and does not appear to be a part of the conversation in the immediate future.
*The defense continues to play damn near impeccable football. They’re generating a pass rush, which was non-existent at the beginning of the year. Their linebackers remain arguable the best in the NFL, and the new-look secondary has been stickier than a teenager’s keyboard.
They now have a +10 turnover margin which is, at the time of this writing, #1 in the NFL. Chris (Twitter handle @30AcreFortress and who is a must-follow for Seahawks fans) pointed out recently that it’s time to start talking about Carroll as one of the greatest defensive coaches in history. And he’s right. This type of performance, after the sheer volume of lost Pro Bowl talent, is absolutely insane.
*he ‘Hawks continued their impressive third down performance in this one, converting 6 of their first 8 before focusing more on the clock than on yards at the end. Still, 6-12 is fantastic and will put you in position town a lot of games.
We’re cheering for a good team again. Maybe we always have. What I do know is that this iteration of the Seahawks is full of new players to love. From Fluker to Carson, the Griffins to Flowers, McDougald and Dickson and Moore and Clark and Coleman and on and on; this team is getting show-out performances from a litany of dudes that haven’t been a part oif the conversation when talking about Seattle’s success until now.
All of a sudden, this is a squad that looks like they can compete with anybody. The faces are different but I don’t know that the expectations should be. Onward, and allll the way upward. Let’s go.
Today’s article was fueled by Buffalo Trace and a tasty Zoicalo from arguably my favorite cigar brand, CAO. The 2018 season of Cigar Thoughts is proud to be sponsored by Fairhaven Floors and Brandon Nelson Partners.