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Cigar Thoughts, Game 3: Balanced offense, dominant Earl Thomas lead Seahawks to win over Cowboys

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Seattle ran the ball 38 times, and Earl Thomas picked off two passes as the Seahawks beat the Dallas Cowboys for their first win.

Dallas Cowboys v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

We have been supremely blessed over the last few years. We’ve gotten to watch some of the best players in the league dominate while wearing Seahawks uniforms. From Russ to Marshawn, Bobby to Kam, Doug to Sherm- Seattle has had guys who are in the conversation for the best at their positions. Earl Thomas is the conversation at free safety.

Thomas has been the best, most important player on the best, most important defense of the last 10 years, and he’s done it with a wild, almost extraterrestrial intensity. It’s been since Walter Jones that a Seahawks has been so unanimously superior at their position for as long as Earl has. From the moment he first stepped on an NFL field through his game-clinching interception today, Earl has raised the ceiling of what a safety can do.

Today, with the eyes of the sport on him, against his hometown team- the ones to whom a trade has been long rumored- with Chancellor, his fellow angel of death raising the flag, Earl flat out dominated. A wild week of speculation and missed practices culminated with a virtuoso performance from Seattle’s enigmatic All Pro.

Earl led the team in tackles and snagged two remarkable interceptions as Seattle’s defense suffocated the Cowboys. After his second pick, the one that sealed the Seahawks’ first win of 2018, Thomas trotted over to the Dallas sideline and took a big, sweeping bow. It was a moment of genuine swagger, reminiscent of Richard Sherman getting in Tom Brady’s face, or Golden Tate waving goodbye to the Rams during a game-winning touchdown. It was ferocious authenticity, a call-back to the halcyon days where Seattle overwhelmed teams with superior talent and made sure they knew about it every step of the way. It is a part of the Seahawks that will be gone the moment Earl is no longer a part of this team.

The idea that extending Earl Thomas is some sort of dilemma is just baffling to me.

The game itself got off to the same slow offensive start that we’ve grown accustomed to. Seattle continued to run plays whose sole purpose seemed to be to showcase Michael Dickson’s legs. They managed something like 40 yards in the first quarter and punted on their first three drives, a sluggish performance that would have hurt them had the defense not been excellent.

After forcing a three and out on Dallas’ first possession, Seattle’s defense did what they’ve done better than almost anyone in the NFL this year- turn the ball over. On the Cowboys’ third play of the drive, Dak Prescott whipped a pass to a slanting receiver. Tre Flowers slapped his hand onto the ball as soon as it hit the receiver’s hands, shooting it straight towards the shins of a charging Earl Thomas. Somehow, Thomas managed top pin the ball to his left ankle off the deflection, securing it for the first of three turnovers the Seattle D would record.

Midway through the second quarter, the Seahawks offense began to show the first signs of cohesion all year. By hammering Chris Carson into Dallas’ vaunted front seven over and over, Seattle did something they haven’t all year: create consistently manageable distances on third down. On one particular third down, Seattle swung Carson into the right flat, a space vacated by a defender chasing a slant route to the center of the field. Wilson fed him the ball and he rumbled down into the red zone. Seattle then went no huddle, riding the momentum and a scrambling Dallas defense into the next play.

Wilson took the next snap and calmly delivered the ball up the seam to an open Jaron Brown for the game’s first score. It was a play made possible by Will Dissly taking the seam defender out of the play with a dart route (you mean you can do that?) Misdirection? Spacing? THAT’s the shit I’m talking about. THAT looks like an offense that has a chance in the modern NFL.

The Cowboys responded with their first functional drive of the game, and appeared to score when Dak Prescott escaped pressure and found a forgotten-about Ezekiel Elliott down the right sideline for a long touchdown. Elliott grabbed the pass and ran past everything, including the side judge’s hat. Replay confirmed that Zeke stepped out before the catch and just like that, Dallas’ 7 became 3.

On Seattle’s next possession, Wilson ran the hurry up offense to perfection (as he so often does- seriously, why don’t they do that more?). After moving the ball to midfield, Wilson took the snap and stepped into a spotless pocket, nailed the safety’s feet to the ground with his eyes, then flicked the ball over said safety’s head. His pass hit Tyler Lockett in stride for an easy 52-yard touchdown and put Seattle up 14-3.

That’s when the cracks started to show for Dallas. After another ineffectual Cowboys drive, Seattle found themselves just across midfield with five seconds left. Before the teams went to their respective huddles, diminutive swamp monster Joey Hunt got in Randy Gregory’s face, coaxing a head slap out of the Dallas DL that resulted in a 15-yard penalty that allowed Sebastian Janikowski to end the half with a 47-yard FG.

The second half was relatively uneventful, as Seattle continued to whale away at the Cowboys defense, repeatedly swinging Chris Carson headlong into the scrum. It mostly resulted in punts, but with a two-score lead and the clock wasting away, Seattle’s win expectancy continued to creep upward. The pinnacle was a 6-minute, 10-play, 72-yard drive that ended when Chris Carson scored the first TD by a Seattle running back since 2008 or something. That relentless, almost monotonous possession pushed the score to 24-6 and effectively put the game out of reach.

All told, the Seahawks ran 38 designed run plays against just 28 passes. When you hear coaches stubbornly insist on establishing the run, games like this are why. There is something satisfying about getting a lead and then just leaning relentlessly on your opponent like the big stack at a poker table.

The thing is, it only really works when your defense plays great. And the Seahawks defense played great. They hounded Prescott at very turn, recording five sacks and very nearly getting two or three others. Elliott racked up a bunch of yards, as he always does, but every time the Cowboys got going, the Seahawks just ripped it all away. On one play, Elliott burst through a well-blocked gap on the left side and started sprinting towards glory with just Earl between him and the end zone. As Zeke began his juke, he decelerated just enough for Bradley McDougald to chop at his wrist from behind. The well-placed strike jarred the ball out of Elliott’s normally sure hands and Justin Coleman flew in from nowhere to wrest the ball away with one arm.

Still, the Cowboys weren’t dead just yet. They finally put together a TD drive to make it 24-13 and, after forcing another Dickson punt, moved the ball deep into Seattle territory. That’s when my favorite moment of the season happened. With the ‘Hawks on their heels, Prescott forced the issue with a pass to a crowded middle of the field. The ball hit a few players’ hands at once, ratting around before ricocheting upward and off a facemark or two. From there it was batted around until Thomas elevated for the pick. Just as he was about to grab it, he got decelerated by a Dallas player. As he fell to the earth, Earl somehow corralled the falling football for the game-clinching pick.

It was all academic from there, and a couple short minutes later the Seahawks were celebrating a win in their first home game of the season.

SMOKE RINGS

*With so many young, innovative coaches coming into vogue, the Seahawks stood on their porch and waved their cane at the NFL. They ran the ball like their jobs depended on it. It wasn’t spectacular; in fact, it was almost mundane. Their 38 runs netted just 114 yards. That’s 3.0 yards per carry, which sucks statistically but which kept Seattle in reasonable to-go yardage all game. That in turn helped the Seahawks go 7 for 16 on third down, a HUGE improvement over their first two games.

*Chris Carson does everything a running back could possibly be expected to do in an offense like this. He is almost never in space, but he just runs really decisively. He doesn’t break a ton of tackles but he finishes forward. And today, he showed he can handle an enormous workload. After all the (likely) BS talk of him being gassed last week, Carson carried the ball a monstrous 32 times while hauling in two more passes.

*Tyler Lockett is the only guy who’s gotten open with any consistency this year and he continued to impress today, turning 6 targets into 4 catches for 77 yards and a TD. He has been Wilson’s go-to guy in Doug Baldwin’s absence and has the potential to be a real big threat once Baldwin returns and occupies much the defense’s attention.

*After two very uninspiring performances, Wilson looked really sharp today. He had a number of throws into tight coverage that were impeccably placed yet he never forced the issue unnecessarily. Gone were the jittery feet and quick trigger on the eject button. In their place were decisive step ups into the pocket and strong, sure throws to his guys. When the horn sounded, Wilson had completed 16 of 26 passes for 192 yards and two TDs. He never turned the ball over and only took two sacks. It wasn’t an MVP-type performance, just a winning one.

*The O-line was gooooood today. They held their blocks, created time for Wilson, and to be frank I’m not even sure they committed a penalty. It was the most disciplined I’ve seen Seattle’s OL in half a decade. If they can play like this, then this offense may have a chance after all.

*The defense had a number of standouts today. Aside from Earl’s heroics, Bobby Wagner played terrifically in his return, notching seven tackles and taking on the unenviable task of shadowing one of the best RBs on the planet for 60+ plays. McDougald continued to pepper his delightfully consistent play with big, game-altering plays. Another excellent performance.

Frank Clark dictated terms on the DL today, not only recording his third sack of the season but creating enough mayhem to let others get home as well. Jarred Reed feasted, gobbling Dak up twice. Barkevious Mingo came free on a savage edge blitz to get a sack of his own and Shaquill Griffin barely had his name called all day- perhaps the highest compliment a CB can be paid.

*Michael Dickson was human today, averaging just 43.8 yards per punt. That’ll be enough of that.

I expected the Seahawks to win today, even with as bad as they looked last week. I did not expect it to be this comfortable or satisfying. This was a de facto elimination game, and Seattle breathed some hope into this squalid start with today’s win. It actually looks repeatable too.

The NFC appears wide open this year, the Rams not withstanding, and Seattle can put themselves right in the mix with more efforts like this one. Can’t wait to see where they go from here. Onward. Upward.

Jacson on Twitter | Cigar Thoughts Hub | Cigar Thoughts Facebook

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The 2018 season of Cigar Thoughts is proud to be sponsored by Fairhaven Floors and Brandon Nelson Partners.

This article was fueled by Glenlivet Nadurra and a short, spicy Rocky Patel. Just fine.