The last time these two teams played we saw one of the wildest, most exciting games of the Pete Carroll era. It was a showdown that would be difficult to top, but this game did its best to match it. With the Steelers limping in after a Week 1 beatdown and the Seahawks barely surviving their opener, this game had the potential to send one team soaring and the other careening towards disaster.
The Steelers started with the ball but had their opening drive snuffed out by Branden Jackson, who collapsed the pocket on third down to sack Ben Roethlisberger. The ensuing punt featured a nifty 10-yard return by Tyler Lockett and the Seahawks took the field. They came out throwing to start the game and Russell Wilson immediately hit DK Metcalf for 16 yards on a gorgeous sideline comeback route. They went right back to it on the next play, but missed. That was followed by my least favorite sporting tradition- running on 2nd & long. It netted them two yards and set up a vicious third down sack by TJ Watt on Wilson, forcing an end to a promising drive.
On the next possession, Seattle again forced a third down and this time Jadaveon Clowney ended drive by breaking up a pass at the line of scrimmage. Seattle got the ball back deep in their own end of the field and immediately committed a penalty, setting up the rare 1st & 19 and ensuring that this team continue its streak of starting out with unnecessary offensive difficulty. That setback was countered by a slick trap draw to Carson for a first down and followed up by two nice completions to Lockett for 28 yards and the ‘Hawks looked like they were back in business. But, much like last week, just as Seattle started to create some offensive flow, they were undone by their O-line. A holding penalty followed by consecutive Stephon Tuitt sacks quickly put an end to any momentum Wilson and Co were building. I don’t know how long it’s gonna take to figure this shit out up front, but they better do it quickly.
After another defensive stop, a huge play to Will Dissly was nullified by Germain Ifedi’s second holding penalty of the first quarter. It was offset by a defensive flag but the fact remains that Seattle’s seemingly hopeless right tackle keeps sabotaging the offense. Seattle’s sloppy September continued when, two plays later, Chris Carson had the ball punched out on inside run. Pittsburgh scooped the ball up and sprinted into the endzone for what would’ve been the game’s first score had it not been for a superb flop by Lockett during the return to steal a block-in-the-back penalty.
And for a moment it looked like that flag would make all the difference, but a Mychal Kendricks pass interference at the goal line on a broken third down play bailed the Steelers offense out. Personally, I think the game would benefit from about 30% fewer flags and this call was definitely one of those let-them-play situations where the flag should’ve stayed in the fanny pack. Still, it was called and Pete Carroll must’ve been in his emotions ‘cuz he impulsively challenged in a scenario where there was no hope of it being overturned.
With Pete’s weekly wasted timeout out of the way, the Steelers were free to punch it in with James Conner for the delayed 7-0 lead. Seattle’s next drive was their most promising, with Wilson fearlessly throwing the ball around the field. The switch-up was as effective as I’m constantly screaming it would be. Completions to Lockett, Carson, and a biggie to Malik Turner on 3rd down kept the ‘Hawks moving down the field as Pitt’s pass rush seemed to lose steam.
With Wilson finding his rhythm, it made complete sense to then run the ball three times in a row. The old school approach failed to move the chains and Jason Myers came out to bang a 46-yarder through the uprights. But wait! A penalty on the Steelers kept the drive alive, bailing out Seattle’s play-calling and setting the stage for Will Dissly. Taking advantage of the new life afforded him, Wilson dropped back and launched it up the right seam towards his tight end. That’s when Uncle Will adjusted his body and leaped mid-sprint to soar above the defender like a majestic whale breaching in the ocean. Dissly clapped his flippers around the ball and splashed back down for the game-tying score.
Will Dissly, AGAIN, to take the lead!— Seattle Seahawks (@Seahawks) September 15, 2019
Q3: SEA 14, PIT 10 pic.twitter.com/VIz9sEewXp
To this point, the Seahawks defense had been stupendous, stuffing nearly every run, forcing low-leverage underneath throws, and keeping Ben Roethlisberger from getting comfortable on any pass play. On this drive, however, we saw some tweaks to Pittsburgh’s offense that led to quicker throws into space. Identifying the mismatches afforded by Seattle’s insistence on playing three LBs in 2019, JuJu Smith-Schuster started carving up KJ Wright in coverage. And that’s no knock on Wright- asking a 250-lb LB to cover one of the most electrifying receiving talents in the game is an impossible task.
A series of short completions got Pittsburgh inside Seattle’s 30, but the ‘Hawks defense bowed up and held the home team to a 41-yard field goal with just over two minutes left in the half. The Seahawks, who would be receiving the second half kick, took the field with a chance at a 2-for-1 and on the first play, CJ Prosise(!) ran for 3 yards, but it was brought back by an illegal block. Classic.
From there it was Wilson to Turner for 30, followed by Wilson to Prosise(!) for 5 more. Then Wilson to Lockett for 7, Wilson to Prosise(!) for 9, and Prosise(!) up the middle for 5 more to the Steelers’ 36. Cliiiiiickin’. Except, what’s this? An injury? Yep- beleaguered right guard DJ Fluker finished the play on hands and knees and Seattle, minus all their timeouts, was charged a 10-second run-off. Ugh.
That was followed by a 0-yard swing pass that was tackled in bounds and a 3-yard out that was also tackled in bounds. Again, they have no timeouts. On the next play, Metcalf committed like 8 penalties, knocking Seattle back out of field goal range. With just 12 seconds left, Wilson hit Lockett for 9 quick yards to set up a 58-yard field goal attempt for Myers. Now, Pittsburgh is the hardest place in the NFL to kick - probably because of all depression - as evidenced by the fact that the longest made field goal in stadium history is 53 yards. So, settling for an attempt 5 yards beyond that after a no-timeouts hurry up offense that featured exactly zero urgency is less than ideal. Myers gave it a go, and it had plenty of distance, but the ball wobbled wide left and the Steelers took their 10-7 lead to the locker room.
If it sounds like I’m being unnecessarily harsh towards the Seahawks, it’s because they’re being unnecessarily harsh to my sensibilities. But it goes like this every year so, what am I gonna do- just keep bitching? Yes.
Seattle started the second half with a three and out, which is when we got a surprise appearance from Mason Rudolph. Apparently Roethlisberger hurt his throwing elbow in the first half, which allowed his heralded understudy to make his debut. It did not get off to a great start, though it was no fault of Rudolph’s. Firing a pass towards a tightly covered Donte Moncrief, the contested ball was tipped by Tre Flowers and ricocheted upwards towards the sidelines. As it fluttered to the turf, it was corralled by a flying Bradley McDougald, who cradled it to his bosom as he came down just in bounds.
Seattle took over on Pittsburgh’s half of the field and proceeded to march. On one particularly arousing play, Wilson hit Metcalf about 8 yards down field. DK caught the ball and, with one superhuman stiff-arm, planted a would-be tackler neck-deep in the ground like a got dang flower to pick up 9 more yards. Then there was a man’s-game catch over the middle by Nick Vannett where he got absolutely blown up but held on. Then it was back to Uncle Will for another seam-route TD over the top. Let Russell Wilson throw.
After a big flea-flicker led to a Steelers field goal on the following drive, Wilson got right back in his bag. Swing pass to Carson for 8, short middle to Lockett for 7, then after a 5-yard run by Carson, it was back to CC through the air for 10 more. Then another quickie with Lockett for 5 and a short 3-yard run from Rashaad Penny. Facing 3rd & 2 on Pittsburgh’s 37, Wilson handed it to Penny on the read option. Penny jab-stepped into the pile then reverse-pivoted like a big man in the block. His move back outside to the right turned the defensive end into a pretzel and, aided by a decorative block from his QB, Penny hustled into the endzone for the 21-13 lead.
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Things were really starting to come up Seahawks but we all knew it wasn’t gonna stay like that forever. The Steelers worked the ball right back down the field, methodically picking up medium-to-large chunks of yardage until a slick little slip screen to Vance MacDonald netted them an 8-yard TD to make it 21-19. That set up a monumental two-point attempt early in the 4th quarter and lemme tell you, friends- the Seahawks were up to the task.
Despite good protection upfront affording Rudolph plenty of time, none of the Steelers receivers were able to get free. Seahawks defenders stuck to them like spiderwebs in the dark and, with time in the pocket finally running out, he tried to force a pass over the middle. It was caught, but not by anyone in black. Instead it was Delano Hill, who snagged the pass to preserve the lead.
With that, the ball went back to the ‘Hawks and Wilson hopped right back on the train. After a couple short plays and a bunch of penalties set up 3rd & 20, I expected Seattle to run one of their white-flag plays underneath or with a stupid draw. Instead, Wilson took the snap, dropped back, and extended the play to his right. With everyone covered, he shrewdly identified an opportunity downfield. Wilson let loose an arrow down the middle towards a double-covered Tyler Lockett. Except what Wilson saw was both defenders running with their backs to him. He threw the ball a little short, forcing Lockett to come back to it through the defenders. The ball fell incomplete and there were surprisingly no flags on the field. But Pete pulled another timeout out of pocket and let it ride on red.
The review showed clear defensive PI and just like that, the Seahawks were in field goal range. After two runs set up 3rd & 2, Russell Wilson let his nuts hang. In a moment reminiscent of last year’s game against Carolina, Wilson eschewed a short completion to his right and pivoted left. As his left shoulder tilted upward, I found myself rising up off the couch. This was it. His throw spiraled up above the Steel City’s skyline, turned, and began hurtling back towards the earth. Sprinting under it was none other than DK Metcalf.
The pass was so perfect, its trajectory so pristine, that it startled the young Hulk. Metcalf bobbled it twice than clutched it to his broad, rippling chest with two feet in the paint for the first of many career TDs. Just like that, the Seahawks had scored touchdowns on three consecutive drives and turned an ugly 7-0 deficit into a 28-19 lead.
After another defensive stop gave Seattle the ball back with about six minutes left, Seattle cruised to their first comfortable win of the season. Haha, just kidding- Carson immediately fumbled a pressured handoff and the Steelers recovered to Seattle’s 3-yard-line. It was Carson’s third lost fumble in two games and it set up an easy pop-pass TD to McDonald to make it 28-26. There we go. This is what I’m used to. Make me sweat and squirm and unable to eat with anxiety— that’s what I come here for.
Seattle would reset with their once comfortable lead shaved to an uncomfortably thin margin. Again I expected the Seahawks to run their ostrich offense and bury the ball in exchange for a cheap minute or two off the clock but again they surprised me. They came out throwing with the game on the line and it. was. beautiful.
Wilson, who has been impeccable all season, took the delicate situation in his cartoonishly large hands and cared for it with the deft attention of a doting mother. He started the drive with a safe 4-yard completion, followed by a 7-yarder to Lockett for a first down. Remember folks, you ice games by getting first downs, not just trying to squeeze seconds out of the clock with handoffs the defense knows is coming.
Then, on another pass play, Russ kept it up the middle for 10 yards and another first down. An effective passing game does more to open up the run than the other way around, and that play was a perfect example. With the defense on their heels, Wilson patiently waited for the middle of the field to vacate before calmly tucking the ball in and rushing for the first. After a Penny run forced a timeout, Wilson again dropped back to pass and again tucked it under his wing for another first down. Unfortunately, this one was brought back by a holding call on Ethan Pocic, setting up 2nd & 17. Another Penny run made it 3rd & 16 and burned another of Pitt’s timeouts.
Once more Brian Schottenheimer ignored the siren song of a 3rd & long draw play and instead remembered that he has one of the 5 best QBs on the planet. Putting his trust in Russ, Seattle drew up a pass play with an eye towards ending it right then. For the third time on the drive, nothing presented itself through the air and for the third time on the drive, Wilson kept it to himself and darted up the middle. He slid down after 15 yards, setting up a 4th & 1 with the game on the line.
To Carroll’s credit, he did not settle for the field goal and instead trusted his offense to nail the coffin closed. The next play call was for those of you who love the fact that Seattle wants to run the ball down the throats of the other team. And in this situation, I support it. The give went to Carson, and their faith in the fumbler was rewarded with a game-sealing 2-yard plunge.
When the dust cleared, the Seahawks were 2-0.
~Russell Wilson. What’s left to say? Impossible as it seems, given the gilded arc of his career to date, he may be playing the best football of his career. Again burdened with consistent ineptitude from the OL, and throwing to a receiving corps that has like 20 combined career routes run, he is absolutely shredding defenses. And credit to the coaching staff for trusting him to go win them a game, regardless of organizational ethos.
The resultant stat line is pure football pornography. 29 for 35 (82.9%) for 300 yards (8.6 Y/A), 3 TDs, 0 INTs, and a sterling rating of 131. Just pure mastery of the hardest and most important position in sports. The Seahawks will go as far they let Wilson take them.
~I mentioned the struggles of the O-line a lot today and to be fair, it was really just the right side. Germain Ifedi and DJ Fluker were absolute sieves this morning, at least in the first couple of quarters, and were the major culprits responsible for the 4 first half sacks Wilson took. The left side seemed pretty solid all day, and Wilson’s exploits helped to obscure just how often Seattle found themselves behind the sticks today, but it’s something that has to get figured out.
~The rushing game never got going last week and for the first good chunk of this one it was the same situaish. But, as the passing game began to keep the defense from leaning forward, avenues began to open. Carson turned 15 carries into a serviceable 61 yards and added 27 more on 3 catches. The two fumbles are concerning, even though the argument can be made that the second one wasn’t completely his fault, but the team continued to trust him. At this point, I’m considering the lost balls an outlier and I’m sure CC will be fine moving forward.
Rashaad Penny had one of his best games as a pro today, as he carried the rock 10 times for a team-leading 62 yards plus an additional 3 through the air. His 37-yard touchdown was one of the most important plays of the game and it was all thanks to some very nifty footwork from Seattle’s former 1st round pick.
For what it’s worth, CJ Prosise(!) was able to translate his brief appearance into 20 yards on 5 touches, including 3 catches.
~After last week’s game saw almost the entirety of the targets go to DK Metcalf and the RBs, we saw a much more diverse distribution today. Wilson threw passes to 8 different receivers today, with wideouts accounting for 22 of his 35 attempts. His main man was Tyler Lockett, whose insane efficiency turned 12 targets into 10 catches for 79 yards. And while the yardage isn’t eye-popping, he had a bunch of first downs and first downs are how you win.
Speaking of football pornography, human perfection DK Metcalf only had 3 catches but they were all fuckin’ awesome. His first one came on Seattle’s first play- a diving fingertip catch on a low ball thrown intentionally behind him. It was a veteran reception and immediately reminded me of the 2,000 times Larry Fitzgerald has done that against the ‘Hawks. His second catch was the beastly 17-yarder featuring a stiff-arm from the pits of Hell. His final one was the type of play I think we’re gonna see a lot of from him over the years. After a clean release to the outside, he put distance between him and his man with his puma-like speed. Creating separation on a route like that effectively gives your quarterback a tremendous margin for error on that throw- not that Wilson needed it. That TD was enormous and a terrific example of what Metcalf is capable of in this league.
Nice to see Malik Turner make the most of his opportunity. While Jaron Brown was racking up blocks in the back, Turner pulled in 3 catches for 54 yards- every single one of them netting a first down. Will Dissly has also picked up right where he left off prior to his injury last year. 5 catches for 50 yards and 2 tuddies is a hell of a performance.
~A glance at the score would indicate a less than stellar defensive performance by the ‘Hawks, but in reality they were very good today. Two of Pittsburgh’s touchdowns were gimmies off of fumbles, which means the Seattle defense really played well. And before that gets credited to the Roethlisberger injury, I think the Steelers actually looked better with Rudolph in there.
There weren’t any mind-boggling individual performances, but this defense was quick, cohesive, and sure in their tackling. The D-line kept the Steelers’ QBs uncomfortable and held Pittsburgh to 81 yards rushing. Bobby Wagner and KJ Wright had 15 tackles between them and kept the yards difficult to come by. The real heroes today, however, were Seattle’s inexperienced secondary.
I thought Tre Flowers was really good today- he was targeted a lot, and likely will be all season, but he was very sticky in coverage and had his hands everywhere when the ball came his way. Shaquille Griffin was good, too. I guess he technically gave up the second MacDonald TD but that was a pop pass into a zone. No one was stopping it with that defensive configuration. Other than that, I thought he was excellent, as almost all of Pittsburgh’s passing yards came underneath or in the slot.
Bradley McDougald and Delano Hill were all over the field, each notching and interception although McD’s is the only one that makes it into the box score. They just seemed so much more together with Hill in there and I truly believe McDougald is one of the 3 or 4 best players on this defense.
~Today was Pete Carroll’s 68th birthday. He was presented with his 100th win as the Seahawks’ head coach, Russell Wilson’s 200th career passing TD, and DK Metcalf’s first career score. Happy birthday, coach.
~Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t tip my hat to the playcylling today. I’ve been riding this offense hard for their stubbornness and preference for unimaginative running over high-efficiency, high-leverage passing. Today, they recognized what was and wasn’t working and gave the keys to the car to the most important Seahawk of all time.
Russell Wilson threw the ball quickly and decisively today, carving the Pittsburgh defense into neat little pieces like a deli slicer. Even when they had a one-score lead late, they entrusted the outcome to their best player. Russ threw when he needed to and ran when it was prudent. Better things happen with the ball in his hands than they do when it isn’t. I hope this is the beginning of a trend.
The Seattle Seahawks are 2-0, and that freaking rules. There is just so much season ahead of us but it’s hard to be anything but excited about this team. They are not playing their best football but they’re still winning, and that is as encouraging as anything. This squad will continue to gel, continue to develop, and continue to add pieces as great defensive players return from injury (Ziggy Ansah) and suspension (Jarran Reed).
This is beginning to shape up like one hell of a season and there’s no telling what heights we watch them reach if this team really gets going. Onward, upward, go muhfuggin’ ‘Hawks.
My cigar today was a rare Forbidden from Arturo Fuente and it smokes smoother than the bridge of a Marvin Gaye song. I complimented it with some of Glenlivet’s Nadurra for a combination that added a little bite to a cloudy day.
Once again, I am STOKED about our cigar partnership this year. One of our readers has the plug on some insane stogies has offered them to Cigar Thoughts readers for 20% off. These are high-end sticks, and among the most enjoyable I’ve ever smoked. To get the hookup, just email SeattleCigarConcierge@gmail.com. They are carrying over 70 cigar brands with many rare releases, including Davidoff, OpusX, and Padron. You can also hit him up on Twitter: @SeattleCigars