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Cigar Thoughts, Game 15: HANG THE F***ING BANNER

The Seattle Seahawks stomped the Los Angeles Rams into powder, winning 20-9 and clinching the NFC West title for the 5th time in the last 10 years.

Los Angeles Rams v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

The Seahawks defense is back, baby. And not just in a “they’re better than they started” type-a way. This is a bona fide lockdown unit poised to make a championship run.

We were all shocked during the first half of the season when Seattle gave up a historic number of yards and points, putting a tremendous amount of pressure on their offense to score a shit ton. And for most of that stretch, they did! It was so different from the kind of football we’ve grown used to in the Pete Carroll era and if I’m being honest, it was fun as hell. I mean, who doesn’t love seeing a bunch of points en route to a 5-0 start?

Even so, the gremlin gnawing at the back of our brains kept grumbling a truth we all intrinsically knew: the Seahawks were never gonna win a Super Bowl giving up 30+ points every game. Even at 5-0, it required three fairly miraculous wins to overcome the sheer tonnage of points they were giving up. The thing is, water always finds it’s level. The Seahawks offense couldn’t continue their insane pace and when they inevitably regressed, the pressure switched to a defense that had been just a hair worse than putrid.

Since giving up 44 points to the Buffalo Bills— the most in Carroll’s tenure— the Seahawks defense has been playing out of their collective mind. They showed up today with the NFC West championship on the line and played like a pack of starving wolves let loose in a private game reserve. With fangs bared and claws extended, they tore the Rams apart, keeping their divisional rivals out of the endzone for 60 championship minutes en route to a two-score coronation. So how’d it go down? Let’s dig in.

The Seahawks won the toss and offered the opening possession to the Rams. Neither team seemed very excited about scoring points and instead started off by exchanging pleasantries in the form of three-and-outs on their respective opening possessions. It was a courtesy extended to the fans, giving all the cardboard cutouts time to finish getting concessions find their seats before anything exciting happened.

On LA’s second drive, Jared Goff completed three straight third downs, the first two to Cooper Kupp and the third to Robert Woods, before the fourth sailed behind Van Jefferson at the sticks. That incompletion forced the Rams to settle for a field goal and 3-0 lead, Despite all the first downs, Seattle did a good job of pressuring Goff and pushing him off his spots. He made a few nice throws on the run, but you can live with that. The thing about Goff is that if he’s permitted to stay on schedule, that offensive scheme allows him to put up some pretty awesome numbers. But if you can rattle him— even a little bit— he’s got a penchant for going off the rails. And boy, did he ever today. I love that goofy-faced doof, and will forever be grateful that Sean McVay’s offense is devoid of a real quarterback because otherwise, hoo boy.

After starting the game with run, run, stare-down-your-first-read-and-almost-get-picked on their first drive, the Seahawks got a little more rhythm on their second possession. Using some pre-snap motion and a moving pocket, Wilson hit Will Dissly and Tyler Locket for shorties en route to a first down, but a sack on 3rd & 3 doomed the drive and Seattle was forced to punt it again.

The ‘Hawks defense stepped up in a big way on the next possession, however, forcing the Rams to punt it back after Poona Ford rushed Goff into an incompletion, Benson Mayowa tackled Darrell Henderson Jr in the backfield, and Jamal Adams forced a short dump-off on a safety blitz that obliterated the running back and moved Goff off his mark. On its face, it was just a simple a three-and-out but the thing that stands out was how Seattle’s defenders dictated the outcome on all three plays.

After receiving the punt, Seattle leaned into their best offensive weapon on their next drive, hitting DK Metcalf on a couple of close completions for 16 yards. That was countered with a 10-yard Chris Carson plunge and an 18-yard over route to Greg Olsen. All of that pushed Seattle into scoring position and for a moment, it looked like they’d have an open touchdown when Jacob Hollister ran unchecked up the left sideline on a wheel route. Russell Wilson’s throw, however, was about three yards in front of him and the drive ended up stalling out.

In real time, it looked like Russ simply missed an easy score but on the replay, I thought it was actually a perfectly-timed play by the linebacker, who shoved Hollister right at the legal five-yard mark, knocking him off his route at the exact moment that Wilson had committed to the throw. There’s been a lot of opportunities to criticize Wilson lately but I actually don’t think that was one of them. Nevertheless, the drive still ended with a 45-yard field goal attempt that team MVP Jason Myers calmly knocked through to tie the game up.

The Rams found a little rhythm again on their next drive, maximizing their opportunities on a bunch of short passes and a couple of nice runs, stretching 42 yards over 10 plays en route to their second field goal. And even though it was 6-3 Rams, this game just felt good. That feeling, honest as it may have been, still wouldn’t be validated for a little while yet.

Los Angeles’ offense put together another nice drive on their next outing, looking to extend the lead and put their hosts firmly on their heels. But, again, thank the Lord God Almighty for Jared Goff. After another frustrating string of first downs from LA’s chunk-by-chunk game plan, Goff took a third down snap and rolled to his right.

Now, I know the mobile QB is all the rage right now and it’s true that squirrelly signal-callers add an extra dimension, but there is still a place for confident pocket passers in this league. Then you have Jared Goff. I have never in my life seen a QB less confident on the move and perhaps no play emphasized that deficiency more than what happened on the 10th play of this particular drive.

Drifting outside the pocket on this particular play, Goff found his initial reads expertly covered. Instead of tucking the ball and fighting for a first down on the ground, Goff chickened out and lobbed a desperate pass to... no one. Except Quandre Diggs. Even on replay, it’s hard to decipher exactly what JaGoff saw but instead of taking on contact, or throwing it away, he pulled up short of the line of scrimmage and served the ball up into a barren patch of Lumen Field’s turf. Diggs was the only player nearby, and he swooped in to pick it off and return it from his own 10 all the way back to the 35.

From there, the Seahawks offense went to work. A dump-off to Carson gained 6 on the first play, then Carson charged ahead with a handoff for 11 more. After an incompletion and a short pitch to Dissly, a suddenly large 3rd down loomed over Seattle. With Jalen Ramsey spending most of the day shadowing Metcalf, Seattle finally put their übermensch WR in motion and ran a slick combo route to the left with him and Lockett. Wilson hit the top of his drop back and fired a bullet between two defenders that Metcalf caught and bullied his way upfield for 17 yards and a first down. If you believe in momentum, then this was a huge play.

The Seahawks pushed the ball down to LA’s 23 before Wilson took another drive-killing sack, forcing Myers to drill a 49-yarder to tie it up. The teams would go to the break touchdown-less, tied at 6, with 30 minutes to decide the fate of the division. I’ll take that bet all day long.

The Seahawks came out of the break and went to work like their families’ lives depended on it. After two Carson runs netted just 2 yards, Wilson took a shotgun snap and looked to his right as his underneath receivers to that side slanted hard. Those routes took the underneath coverage to the middle of the field and opened up the right side for an easy 15 yard first down scramble. It was a candy-from-a-baby situation, but Wilson wasn’t satisfied with a simple lollipop. Instead, Russ eschewed the easy gain and went for the whole damn chocolate factory.

With all of us screaming for him to tuck and run, Wilson said fuck your feelings and dialed up David Moore, who had gained a step down the right sideline on a double-move. His throw was the best we’ve seen from him since the sun was setting after 7pm and he put a 45-yard dime right on Moore’s hands for Seattle’s biggest play of the game. How Wilson was able to deliver such a perfect throw with his balls clanging between his ankles is beyond me, but that shit worked out.

From there, it was Carson for 3, a check down to Carlos Hyde for a nifty 18, and then showtime. On the next play, Russ finished what he started by breaking pressure to the left and freezing the linebacker with a steely glare before beating him in a footrace to the front right pylon for the game’s first teeder. 13-6, ‘Hawks.

Now the Rams did their darnedest to answer and, to their credit, they darned like crazy. They held the ball for 12 plays, covering 89 yards after a penalty on the kick return pinned them deep. But 89 isn’t 90, and that simple mathematical fact would have outsized consequences.

With their vaunted running game bottled up Seattle’s swarm in the first half, the Rams finally hit on a couple of long ones to Henderson. That, combined with some chain-moving completions to Kupp, Woods, and Tyler Higbee had LA deep in Seattle’s territory and ready to even things up. Instead, Seattle bossed up and turned in one of the best defensive sequences of the season. With a 2nd & 5 on Seattle’s 7, Henderson took a handoff to the right and shot through a gap for pay dirt. It looked for all the world like he would strut in for a score but the only thing about that is the fact that Jamal Adams exists.

Adams, who was blitzing off the left side, sprinted down the line and launched himself Superman-style towards Henderson as the RB turned the corner towards glory. Adams’ busted left hand clubbed Henderson’s ankles and sent the back spiraling to the turf at the 2. The gain was enough for a first down, but it kept Los Angeles out of the endzone. Henderson hurt his leg on the play and Malcolm Brown came in to take his spot. On 1st & goal, Brown passively accepted a handoff to the left and got hammered to the turf by Jordyn Brooks. On 2nd & goal, Brown fought his way down to the 1 where he was ridden to the ground by Bobby Wagner.

On 3rd & goal, the degree to which McVay doesn’t trust Goff to make a throw became even more evident. They didn’t even try to hide the fact that a QB sneak was coming, and Seattle squeezed down on the snap to bottle him up short of the goal. In fact, Wagner actually knocked the ball loose but the refs didn’t see it and Carroll burned his weekly challenge on a play that had no chance of being overturned due to there being no clear recovery. That forced 4th & goal and the next play would go a long ways towards deciding the division.

Seattle didn’t even worry about a pass, and instead sent the calvary charging with ears pinned into LA’s backfield. The play called for a handoff to the right side and Brown was decimated by the backs of his own linemen. KJ Wright and Jordyn Brooks knocked their blockers back like they had planted bombs under their feet and Brown collapsed under the weight of his own men. It was such an alpha display of LOS dominance by Seattle that the play never had a chance. Four plays to get 2 yards and the Rams’ vaunted offense couldn’t net an inch. We didn’t know it for sure at the time, but that was the game. Felt like it though.

Seattle wouldn’t do anything with their next possession and kicked it away. On the return, Nate Webster attempted to dart between two tacklers and was knocked off his feet by Cody Barton. In doing so, he coughed up the ball— a fumble that somehow tumbled beneath like 13 Seahawks to end up back in Webster’s hands at the bottom of the pile. That gave the Rams the ball at Seattle’s 44 and they used 10 laborious plays to inch the ball close enough to hit a field goal. Despite the points, the Seahawks defense continued to swarm like a plague of Egyptian locusts, hounding every ballcarrier and sucking the nutrition out of a once-robust offense.

Two drives later, the Seahawks called game for good. Up 13-9, Russ and Co. got down to business. Wilson hit Lockett up the right sideline for 11 then handed it off to Carson, who crashed through the middle of the line like a spooked rhino, goring his way forward for 15. The Wilson came back to Lockett down the left side for 24 more and their third 1st down in as many plays.

After a couple of short runs, Wilson hit Metcalf on a stick route two yards short of the first down. DK caught the pass and turned upfield with his bionic eyes glowing red. He vaporized the first defender to reach him and then lowered his shoulder to bury the second tackler in the dirt two yards past the sticks. Then he got up and spat on the dearly departed’s grave. After back-to-back 3-yard runs from Carson, Wilson dialed up Jacob Hollister on an out-and-up for an easy touchdown to make it 20-9.

The rest of the game was purely academic. The Rams were thoroughly beaten, their subservient place in the division re-established. They ran some plays, Seattle ran some plays, and the two head coaches shook hands while the Seahawks celebrated their NFC West championship on their home field.

SMOKE RINGS

~Russell Wilson was good, not great. His first throw of the day should have been picked off but he righted the proverbial ship after that. His throw to Moore was one of his best of the season, and his TD to Hollister was perfectly thrown as well. Aside from that, he took what was available and kept the Seattle offense moving forward., It was another fairly pedestrian stat line (20/32, 225 yards, 1 TD, no turnovers, and a rushing score) but the key thing was that he didn’t force anything.

I will say he missed Metcalf on a deep bomb where DK got a clean release to the inside, but Wilson’s throw drifted over the opposite shoulder and onto the sideline. The thing about Russ is that he’s a good quarterback on most throws and an otherworldly one on deep passes. For whatever reason,* Wilson’s long throws have been unusually erratic lately. It’s the #1 reason his numbers have settled from MVP level to good-enough level.

*pet theory: he’s playing concussed since getting the shit kicked out of him in Buffalo

Ultimately, the QB’s job is to win. Wins aren’t a QB stat, but no position has a bigger impact on the outcome and all Wilson has done is average more than 10 Ws per year since entering the league. That is not an accident. In fact, no quarterback win NFL history has won more games through their first nine seasons than Wilson. When the narrative of the season shifted and defenses adjusted, so did Wilson. He won’t garner the type of end-of-year accolades we once thought he would, but he’s still playing well enough to win consistently with how their recent games have gone.

~We’ve been pretty hard on Wilson lately, and much of it is deserved, but Tyler Lockett has completely vanished. After a stellar first half of the season that saw him among the league leaders in catches, yards, and TDs, he has recorded just 43 catches for 418 yards and 1 TD in the last nine games. That’s an average of 4.8 catches for 46.2 yards and .1 TDs. Those numbers are fine, but they’re not even close to what we expect from him. He hasn’t topped 67 yards since exploding in Arizona and is now a very average #2 WR until he goes back to proving otherwise. Now, two of his catches today came on Seattle’s second TD drive, and they were very important, but he’s not leaving his stamp on the game the way we’re used to seeing. 3 for 43 this afternoon.

~DK Metcalf has also been bottled up recently, at least relative to his first half of the season, but he remains the team’s biggest contributor on offense. Even with defenses scheming against him, and his QB missing him on some long opportunities, he’s still become a chain-moving force closer to the line of scrimmage.

He’s playing like a star scorer in basketball that opposing teams have keyed in on. Unable to shake free for three-pointers and dunks, he’s developed a midrange jumper that still changes the trajectory of a game. It’s a level of polish that usually takes even great receivers years to develop, and it’s been a huge boon for Seattle in the absence of the deep ball. he again led the team in targets (8), catches (6), and yards (59). He’s still the man, and should finish the season in the NFL’s top 5 in yards and touchdowns. And he’s sooooo young.

~This is Chris Carson’s backfield again. The Seahawks only rushed for 94 yards on 24 carries, but Carson got 69 of them on 15 totes and brought the heat on every single one of those rushes. He added 3 catches for 10 yards, giving him 75% of the backfield’s touches and 73% of their yards. The time will come, mark my words, when the Seahawks need him to go out and win them a game and when that happens, Chris Carson will be ready.

~Carlos Hyde has been relegated purely to a give-Chris-a-breather role, carrying the ball twice for 9 yards and cashing in his lone target for 18 yards. Rashaad Penny is back and looking thiccer than a down south IG model, but he’s a long way from getting heavy usage as he works his way back from last season’s devastating knee injury. Three carries for 9 yards from Penny today.

~This defense. My God. They played like an LOB-era unit, harassing every receiver, rallying to every ballcarrier, and keeping a potent offense out of the endzone for the entire game. The Seahawks played defense like a school of piranha, nipping at every Ram with razor teeth and relentless energy. One of the coolest animal facts I’ve ever learned is that cheetahs have so little body fat, and expend so much energy during a chase, that they run the risk of dying if they don’t catch their prey. That’s how the Seahawks played defense today, tackling like they’d starve without a kill and each time they did, the whole squad rallied in to get a bite.

~Jamal Adams was king shit of fuck mountain in this one. He tied for the team lead with 8 tackles but his impact went way beyond that. He blitzed like crazy and pursued every ballcarrier with the relentless energy of a teething puppy. He was tight in coverage, breaking up two passes and making the defensive play of the game when he lassoed Henderson at the 2. He is worth everything the Seahawks traded to get him, and is the main reason the defense allowed just 9 points today and an all-caps ELITE 15 ppg over the last seven games.

~I mentioned that Adams tied for the team lead in tackles, so who do you think it was that joined him? Bobby Wagner? KJ Wright? Quandre Diggs? Nope— it was none other than rookie wunderkind Jordyn Brooks. We’ve watched him get more and more comfortable with the NFL game over the last two months and it’s no matter of chance that the team’s defensive turnaround has coincided with Brooks’ increased playing time. He had two tackles on that magnificent goal-line stand and wreaked more than his fair share of havoc.

~Coverage was really good today, too. Sure, the Rams got a few timely third down conversions but not once did a receiver really get loose and the longest completion they allowed all game was just 24 hards. Even when they did give up a completion, the secondary’s tackling was outstanding. Whether it was Adams, Shaquill Griffin, Ugo Amadi, or Diggs, Seattle’s DBs stayed tight enough to their men that LA was only able to complete 24 of 43 passes for a puny 5.4 yards per attempt. A fantastic performance from the Seahawks’ back end.

~On the front end, Seattle was ferocious. They sacked Goff three times and harassed him on nearly every other drop back. Jarran Reed exploded for two sacks and Alton Robinson continued his tremendous campaign with another one of his own. They bottled up the vaunted Rams rushing attack by swarming to the ball like sharks to an injured surfer. The impact that Carlos Dunlap has had goes so far beyond the box score that I’m not even sure how to describe it. This is a Super Bowl quality defense and it is nothing short of bizarre to be typing that sentence in late December given how September and October went for this unit. They keep playing like this, there is no ceiling for this team.

~Seattle’s special teams remains incredible. Michael Dickson and Jason Myers have been the best battery in the NFC, regardless of what Pro Bowl voters say. Just wait until the All Pro tallies emerge. Myers is one game shy of completing a perfect season kicking field goals and Dickson continues to punt the got damn air out of the football at every opportunity. That’s not even mentioning how savage Seattle’s kick coverage has been. You don’t notice special teams until you do, and every time we’ve noticed Seattle’s this year, it has ranged between pleasant and exuberant.

11-4. NFC West champs. No season is above reproach, and that’s certainly true of the 2020 Seahawks, but if you can convince yourself to step back and look at this year from 30,000 feet, you’re gonna love what you see. We all want our team to win every game by three scores but the reality is that no team in the NFL does that. What matters is whether you can be better than your opponent on any given day and Seattle has done that on 11 of 15 occasions.

They probably won’t get the #1 seed in the NFC, but they will likely finish with one of the 4 or 5 best records in the NFL and any time you do that, you have a legitimate shot at clutching the Lombardi. If you’re still frustrated with this team for whatever reason, let me put it to you this way: if I, before the season started, offered you 11-4 and a clinched division, what would your response have been? If you tell me you wouldn’t take it, then I better see you hit on 19 the next time you’re at the blackjack table.

I spent all offseason crowing about this being a special year for the ‘Hawks and so far, that’s exactly what it’s been. Yes, there’s been some adversity, but what team doesn't have that? The squad is generally healthy and the defense is balling out of control. Russell Wilson is still Russell Wilson, and that combination is gonna scare the hell out of whoever they face in the playoffs.

Seattle finishes up the regular season against the 49ers next week, and then we’ll see who they’ll draw. What we do know is that they’ll be in the dance and they’ll be hosting whatever unlucky group of schlubs has the misfortune of drawing them. Onward, upward, and hang the damn banner.

Jacson on Twitter | Cigar Thoughts Hub | Cigar Thoughts Facebook

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Championship quality games deserve championship quality cigars, so today I drew the Don Carlos 2016 God of War from the scabbard. This beefy stogie is muy fuerte, blitzing the palate with lots of cedar and thick plumes of smoke. Paired it with some Ardbeg Uigeadail for an absolutely palate-crushing combo.

For the second straight year, I am STOKED about our partnership with Seattle Cigar Concierge. They have the plug on some of the most insane stogies on the market and they’re has offering 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 plug, just email SeattleCigarConcierge@gmail.com. They are carrying over 70 cigar brands with many rare releases, including Davidoff, Opus X, and Padron. You can also hit him up on Twitter: @SeattleCigars.

Seattle Cigar Concierge is also offering a special promotion from Caldwell One, the proceeds of which are going to support first responders. Bundles of 10 going for the deeply discounted rate of $120 for 10 of these beauties.

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The 2020 season of Cigar Thoughts is also proud to be sponsored by Fairhaven Floors and Brandon Nelson Partners in Bellingham, WA.