The Seattle Seahawks came into this a curious 5-2, with narrow wins over a bunch of bad teams and losses to two good ones*. Incredible seasons by numerous individuals have grappled with baffling in-game coaching decisions and a once-potent defense that might be worth $8/gram now. The hope was that, going into Atlanta to take on the one-win Falcons, the Seahawks would assert themselves a contender and put away an inferior talent whose terrible season got worse with an injury to Matt Ryan. It was also another showdown between Pete Carroll and his former defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, with the latter’s job almost certainly hanging in the balance. If Seattle was gonna blow anyone out, this was set up pretty well to be the one.
Seattle received the kick to begin the game and I was super encouraged to see some creative playcalling on their first possession. We’re all painfully aware of Seattle’s struggles on their opening drives under Pete Carroll (cuz you can’t win a game in the first quarter, apparently), and specifically in the last couple of years, but this season has seen a more positive trend. On the first play from scrimmage, Russell Wilson expertly managed the space inside a collapsing pocket to hit Malik Turner over the middle for a sprawling 21-yard gain. Later, Wilson rolled right before stopping and firing it all the way back to the left side of the field to Tyler Lockett with a litany of blockers in front of him for 15 more. Sprinkled in between was a series of runs that involved misdirection and pulling guards instead of grandpa’s old line-’em-up-and-see-who’s-tougher plunges up the middle.
The drive would eventually stall when consecutive throws to a well-covered David Moore went incomplete, bringing Jason Myers out to bang a 42-yarder through the uprights to give the Seahawks the quick lead. The Falcons’ first possession went nowhere and they punted it back to Seattle, giving them the opportunity to tack some more points on early. Instead of another crisp collection of plays, however, this one started off with Carson dropping a wide open swing pass that was a guaranteed first down. It also included a holding call on 3rd & 1 and David Moore falling down trying to catch Wilson’s 3rd down attempt.
Atlanta seemed emboldened by Seattle’s buffoonery, and quickly strung together a a few first downs with quick throws to Devonta Freeman, Austin Hooper, and Julio Jones. Their march got as far the the Seahawks’ 35 yard line, where they found themselves facing 4th & 2. Now anyone who read this article last week, or has followed me in any capacity, knows how big of a believer I am in going for it on 4th & short in plus-territory in almost every situation*. Seattle got burned by the wrong decision** last week and it cost them big. Why am I still harping on this? Because Atlanta returned the favor by making the same damn mistake with the same damn outcome.
*You can judge the correct decision pretty easily by how you’d feel as a fan of the other team. I promise you 905 of the time you’re relieved to see the opponent’s field goal unit come out instead of the offense.
**Not only do you limit the potential number of points on a drive by kicking a field goal, you risk giving up an extra 8 yards of field position, and the chances of converting 4th & 1-3 yards is about 10% higher than the chances of making a 50+ yard field goal.
After Matt Bryant pushed his FG attempt wide left, Seattle took the ball back and proceeded to get after the Falcons defense. First it was Rashaad Penny for 9, then Penny again for 17. Then Wilson stepped up and hit Tyler Lockett in perfect coverage for 14. I honestly don’t know how Lockett caught this one, as the defender was alllll over him yet Tyler still somehow corralled it over the shoulder with one hand and pinned it to his chest for the catch. After that it was Chris Carson for 12 to the Falcons’ 7, then Carson again for 4 more to the 3. At this point, the Atlanta D was teetering off balance like a boxer who just ate a big combo of punches. They tried to hit back on the next play, bringing a heavy blitz up the middle with Seattle spread out wide. Against a different QB, that might have worked, but Wilson remained unflawed as rushers bore down on him. He calmly flipped the ball over the top of them to an abandoned DK Metcalf to make it 10-0.
The Falcons were able to grind out another first down on their next drive before finally trying to get the ball downfield. With a relatively clean pocket, Matt Schaub stepped up and zipped the ball down the left seam towards Julio Jones. Unfortunately for them, Michael Kendricks had peeled off his man and dropped straight into the path of the ball. He deftly picked off the pass and set Seattle up with great field position. From there, the ‘Hawks switched from uppercuts to a strong dose of #bodyblows.
After a jet sweep to Moore went for 2, Carson charged off the right tackle for 5 to set up 3rd & 3. Seattle didn’t pretend they were gonna do anything different on this play, and they created a phalanx in front of their RB on the right side that Carson burst through like Leonidas. Once in the open field, Carson went in search of blood, goring his way through overmatched defenders for 19 yards. He’d get 4 more on the next play before tagging in a fresh Rashaad Penny who sprinted down to the Falcons 4 on a 12 yard carry then banged his way to the 1 on the next play. He then made way for Carson to finish what he started and Chris obliged by bouncing outside with a signature stiff-arm and running into the endzone to make it 17-0. On the play, Carson got loose around the right and and had an easy path to the endzone. Instead of taking it, however, he intentionally cut back towards the one defender left who was sprinting down the goal line and tried to finish his touchdown through the poor dude’s sternum. The would-be victim wanted no part of it and ole’d out of the way.
It appeared at this point that the route was officially on and after Atlanta missed another field goal, the book seemed closed on this one. That declaration was virtually sealed in wax when the Seahawks continued pummeling the Falcons on the next possession. A few plays after a completion to Metcalf and a run by Carson netted another first down, Wilson dialed up Lockett again. Like last time, Lockett was completely covered by the cornerback who drew the unfortunate assignment and, like last time he somehow reached through all the arms to snag it with one hand. This one went for 20 yards and I honestly can’t imagine how defeated the Falcons must’ve felt. It was Lockett’s second absurd catch of the game and his second 20-yard reception of the drive. A couple snaps later, Wilson was tossing the ball over the top of everyone to a wide open Metcalf for his second score of the game and a 24-0 lead right before halftime.
Atlanta had one last chance before the break and even got into Hail Mary range for a final heave. On the play, the Seahawks only brought three rushers but one of them was named Jadaveon Clowney and he bullied his way through two blockers to force Schaub into a backpedal. Somehow, with the strength of a dozen alligators, Clowney continued to push both blockers back before snaking an arm out and batting the ball free. It was pounced on by Ziggy Ansah, ending a nearly perfect half marred only by an early injury to Justin Britt.
Now, the 2012-2015 Seahawks wouldn’t have hesitated to use the second half to stomp on the necks of their beleaguered opponents. This had all the makings of a 40+ point bloodbath and I’ll admit I was half surprised that Dan Quinn’s tenure survived the halftime show. Still, the 1-6 Falcons showed remarkable resolve, taking the first drive of the third quarter 75 yards for a touchdown on a deliberate sequence of runs and passes. On this drive, Schaub looked sharp and confident, and their OL got positive pushes really for the first time all day. Of more import was the relatively passive response by Seattle’s defense to this renewed energy. After running back Brian Hill scored rather easily from the 23 for the first TD of his career, Schaub hung one high for Ridley in the back of the endzone that the second-year stud skied for and came down with for the additional two points.
Seattle’s response to Atlanta’s first sign of life was to go three-and-out, extending an invitation to the Falcons to make this a game. Again they came out aggressively, using 10 plays to move back into scoring position and eating away nearly the entire third quarter. Getting as far as the Seattle 23 with ease, it looked like a second consecutive touchdown was imminent. That’s when it was Bobby to the rescue. On a perfectly timed blitz, Wagner expertly recognized the play-action and sprinted right past the running back, filling Schaub’s vision with 250 lbs of All Pro terror. The Falcons QB collapsed to the ground instead of getting driven through it and Seattle was able to hold Atlanta to a field goal. 24-11. Almost a game again.
Another Seattle possession, another three-and-out. At some point in all this, Duane Brown left the game as well and just like that, Seattle couldn’t get a single thing going offensively. By the time the fourth quarter started, Seattle’s second half offensive output consisted of 6 plays for -8 yards, actively fanning the flames of hope in Atlanta. Sensing the shift, the Falcons went right back to Jones and Freeman for chunk gain after chunk gain. The first half saw a flawless performance from Shaquille Griffin* so the second half saw a complete and total avoidance of him.
*truly a contender for best individual defensive performance we’ve seen all year.
Making matters worse, Seattle looked either a touch behind or out of place, because there was room for Falcons to run everywhere. For the third consecutive possession, the Falcons moved the ball virtually unopposed deep into Seattle territory. The eighth play of the drive was 1st & goal from Seattle’s 8 and featured a dump-off to Freeman who tried to fight his way through Marquise Blair and into the endzone. The rookie safety held on tight though, and even managed to tap the ball free as Freeman stretched his arm towards the goal line. The ball squibbed around on the 3 yard line where it was gobbled up by Wagner for an enormous turnover.
In real speed it looked like the runner was actually down but replays showed that Freeman was on top of Blair and that the ball was indeed beginning to slide from his grip as he finally made contact with the ground. The ruling on the field stood and Seattle took over with a much-needed respite from the Atlanta onslaught. Taking advantage of the breather, Seattle put together their only decent drive of the second half. Instead of just burying their heads in the sand and waiting hoping the storm would pass, Seattle took advantage of the fact that Wilson is one of the most talented signal-callers in the league.
The result of that trust was a 10-play, 58 yard drive that not only chewed up nearly seven minutes of the fourth quarter, it ended with a booming 54-yard field goal from Myers. Along the way, Wilson completed one pass to Moore for 23 yards and three to Lockett for 43 more. It was such a refreshing reminder of just how good we have it at that position. That field goal made it 27-11 and although Schaub would lead two late scoring drives for a TD and a FG, it wasn’t enough to climb out of the hole they had been put in during the first half.
When the debris finished falling and the dust began to settle, the Seahawks were found amongst the rubble, desperately clinging to a 27-20 win to move to 6-2.
~Really nice playcalling in the first half today. It wasn’t just the balance of runs and passes, it was Brian Schottenheimer knowing when to call them. He seemed to sense when Atlanta’s (admittedly terrible) defense was expecting one and he gave them the other. But beyond all that, the plays he called had spice. He created space for his playmakers, allowing Carson, Penny, Lockett, and Metcalf to wreak havoc on overmatched defenders.
Most importantly the game plan allowed Russell Wilson, who might be the best QB on planet Earth this year, to direct the performance like the maestro he is. Schottenheimer left all the celery plays in the fridge today and instead cooked up a delicious meal for us all to enjoy.
Then the second half happened, and Seattle played like a threatened turtle. They ducked into the shell of their well-earned 24-point lead and hunkered down as the Falcons pecked away. It was pretty lame, actually, but they were also hurt by penalties and a general lack of execution. I would have loved to see them come right back out with the same potency and creativity and hang 40+ on these jokers but Seahawks fans don’t get to relax and enjoy Sundays. Instead, we had to sweat out Atlanta’s comeback attempt, aided handsomely by Seattle’s flaccid second-half offense.
~Speaking of Russ, he just straight up did his thing this morning. Outside of a baffling fixation on David Moore early, he confidently slung the ball around Atlanta’s shiny new stadium like it was his own backyard throughout the game’s first two quarters. He just looks so in control this year, to a degree we haven’t seen during his first seven seasons. Unfortunately, the ‘Hawks only threw it 6 times in the second half, surpassing Wilson’s production and providing an opening to make the game uncomfortably close. I know that Carroll loves to squeeze the clock with a lead, but having your MVP front-runner throw it just a half-dozen times in the third and fourth against arguably the worst pass defense in the NFL is criminal. Russ’ final line was reminiscent of the last time they kept the chains on him, back in Week 1: 14/20, 182 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs, and a sterling rating of 131.7.
~The Seahawks run game was devastating today. I know I come across as anti-run sometimes but in reality, I’m anti-run-unless-you’re-killing-it-on-the-ground. Passes from Russell Wilson are just so much better in most situations but today, the ground game absolutely mashed. The O-line consistently blew the Falcons D-line off the ball, allowing Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny to feast.
There are a lot of scary aspects to this Seahawks offense, but I can't imagine any of them are more frightening to a defender than Chris Carson charging at full speed. One of the things that’s hampered Carson this year is how often he’s had to dodge tacklers behind the line of scrimmage, which robs him of his fury. Today, however, he was able to go full super saiyan and he channeled that ferocious energy into a body count that would make Dahmer proud. He ran so hard it made my TV shake, and he willfully sought out contact in the open field. Carson carried the ball like his mama would die if the defender didn’t first. His final line was 90 yards, a TD, and about 14 corpses on 20 carries.
Was awesome to see Rashaad Penny back and looking good today. While there’s no doubt that drafting him in the first round was a hilarious misallocation of resources (as would be the case with almost every running back), I think we’ve seen the pendulum of fan sentiment swing way too far against him. He is not a Carson understudy and hasn’t shown the ability to run between the tackles with the verve and authority of the starter, but he is not devoid of talent or the ability to execute. Penny is a very good runner on the edge, and Seattle expertly used that to their advantage. For all the consternation, he boasts an impressive 4.8 career yards per carry. Now, it’s possible they were simply showcasing him in hopes of boosting his trade value ahead of the deadline but whatever the motivation, the result was undeniable. He finished with 55 yards on 8 carries (6.9 YPC) including a couple of really explosive runs.
~Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf are becoming quite the duo. And while they look like the cover of the movie Twins, it’s been Lockett who’s been putting up Schwarzenegger numbers. He was targeted 6 times today, catching all of them for 100 yards, and half of those grabs were just impossible. One of Lockett’s great strengths is a shiftiness that allows him to create separation even on short routes, but what has made him truly special is the otherworldly ability to make catches even when he can’t shake the defender. He had a few of those today, somehow making incredible catches with defenders draped all over him. It’s almost like he can somehow manipulate the defensive backs’ hands to just miss the ball as it approaches and still find a way to haul it in. I don’t know how he tracks the ball through traffic the way he does, or how the ball sticks to his hands like they were made of spiderwebs, but I’ve lost track of how many times he and Russell Wilson have beaten perfect coverage.
This season feels like we’re watching DK Metcalf’s superhero origin story. He’s still getting used to his powers, and hasn’t quite mastered his capabilities, but we’re seeing more and more glimpses of what he can do. His development, both positive and negative, were evident on one particular play in the second quarter. On it, Wilson dropped back and pump-faked. As he did, Metcalf ran a vicious stop-and-go down the right sideline, turning the corner’s knees to gelatin in the process. Russ lobbed the ball high and towards the endzone sideline as DK glid under it. The throw wasn’t perfect- a little further outside than you’d like, and Metcalf struggled to twist back for it. He caught the ball initially, but was unable to get two feet in and the ball came loose as he hit the ground anyway. Now, he caught a TD a few plays later so no damage done but it’s another example of him being just thisclose to be a monster in this league. It’ll come.
Still, he had his first career multi-score game and finished with a productive if unspectacular line of 3-13-12 on 5 targets. It takes most WRs, even the good ones, about three years to really come into their own and there’s no doubt Metcalf is ahead of the curve. It’s been since Joey Galloway that Seattle has drafted a WR with this array of tools and potential and his development is my most intriguing subplot to the season. If he were a stock, I;d be buying all the shares I could get.
~The O-line lost Justin Britt and, briefly, Duane Brown in this one, and that may have contributed to their second half struggles on offense. Overall I thought they were okay- they were terrific in the first two quarters but were unable to create any space for the run game after halftime and gave up two second half sacks to a team that hadn’t recorded one in over a month. OLs are always a work in progress but this one is further from being finished than I’d like to see at this point of the season.
~The defense was aight. In the first half they were smothering, allowing just two decent drives but sniffing nearly everything out. In the second half it was almost like they weren’t there. If it wasn’t for the miracle fumble inside their own 5, they’d have had a pretty terrible half and would’ve jeopardized what appeared to be an insurmountable lead. I don’t know if they went to softer coverages or if Atlanta was just able to out scheme them, but they were bad in the third and fourth quarters. In fact, by the time it was all done, they had allowed an unconscionable 463 passing yards to Matt Schaub of all people. Yeah, Atlanta was in catch-up mode but most of his completions went to dudes who were wide open.
Shaquille Griffin played like Richard Sherman today. He sucked all the air out of every receiver they put in front of him, Julio included. I swear, I never thought he’d be this good. Traditional statistics often tell a very incomplete story when it comes to CBs but his metrics are through the roof, as he ranks in or around the top 5 in almost every meaningful coverage stat. He is leaving no doubt that he should be a big part of this team’s future.
Jadaveon Clowney keeps playing like got damn Godzilla. The dude is just unblockable and he’s doing it without getting much help from his DL mates. As a whole, Seattle ranks near the bottom of the league in pressures, hits, and sacks but none of that accurately reflects the sheer mayhem Clowney is causing this season. He had a sack, a forced fumble, and insane tackle for loss after beating his man and sprinting down the full length of the LOS to drag the ball carrier down from behind.
Bobby Wagner had some real highs and lows this morning. Not sure if it’s just cuz we’ve gotten used to superhuman speed / anticipation or if he was just slow today, but he seemed to be out of position or behind the play a fair amount. That said, he also had some of the “pop” plays that have been missing this season, including a sack*, a fumble recovery, and breaking up Atlanta’s second two-point conversion attempt to preserve a two-score lead. I’m not worried about him or anything, but I’d sure love to see a bounce-back from him next week against Tampa.
*Making him Seattle’s all-time leading tackler. I honestly can’t think of a worthier holder of the title than this legend.
Marquise Blair balled the hell out today. The force with which he makes every tackle is so wild. The dude swings for the fences on every hit; he’s either going to become a legend or get kicked out of the league. He is a wrecking ball that reduces everything in his path to splinters. The blows are spectacular but he also made a ton of them today, finishing with a game-high 11 tackles. He appeared to get hurt late, so prayers up that he’s alright. if he is, I think the ‘Hawks finally found their next cleanup hitter.
~Great to see Jason Myers make all of his kicks today, including that 54-yard boomer. He has not been great this season and his contract is enormous for the position, so he’s not likely going anywhere. He’s gonna have to be solid moving forward if this team is gonna make the type of playoff run their record implies they’re capable of.
This game didn’t end in a very satisfying way but the good half outweighed the bad one, and all these wins spend the same when they give out playoff seeds at the end of the season. Most importantly, the Seahawks are 6-2 which, at the time of this writing, is good for 4th in the NFC and 5th in the NFL. This might not be the 5th best team in the league but they might not not be, either.
The NFL is not a hierarchy of static rungs on a ladder. The difference between good, pretty good, just okay, and pretty bad is really small and the weekly vagaries of this complexly violent sport can mean major shifts throughout a season. When it’s all said and done, however, they don’t score the process- only the outcome. And right now, the Seahawks are halfway through the season with a record we all would’ve taken in a heartbeat at the beginning of the season.
The second half begins next week. Onward, upward, go ‘Hawks.
10am is fairly early to light up a stogie, so I opted for something a little lighter than normal. I chose the Don Arturo Gran AniverXario from Arturo Fuente and was rewarded with honestly one of the most enjoyable smokes of my life. Just an absolute beauty of a cigar and one that has me considering an entire box, despite the gaudy price point (see below for an opportunity to get them at a GREAT rate). I paired it up with the equally light Nadurra from Glenlivet for a nice little breakfast.
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