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Cigar Thoughts, Week 1: Russell Wilson cooks the Falcons

The Seahawks unleashed their superstar QB in Atlanta today, and he responded with one of the great performances of his stellar career, leading Seattle to 38-25 win over the Falcons.

Seattle Seahawks v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Oh man, how good did that feel? In a year soaked with uncertainty, it was nice to just plop down on the couch, pour a bowl of cereal, and watch some damn football. Not that Seahawks games have traditionally been anything close to relaxing, but I didn’t care. There’s a counter-intuitive soothing effect that the madness of Seahawks of football has on me; I guess it’s the chaos I can count on.

This season is going to be weird for a lot of reasons both inside and out of the sport. Much was made about potential pre-game shows of unity and / or protest and I was curious to see how Seattle would handle it. I thought the decision they made, along with the Falcons, to kneel on the field following the opening kickoff was very cool and I’m fascinated by the process that leads to two teams agreeing on something like that. And then finally, when that was through, the season that felt like it would never arrive finally began, with Atlanta getting the first possession.

The drive started with a couple of nice runs by Todd Gurley to start the game and, after a backfield stop by Bruce Irvin and an incomplete pass to Julio Jones, Matt Ryan found Calvin Ridley for a nifty toe-tap on the sidelines for 19 yards that put them in field goal range. A run, an intentional grounding, and a short completion later, Younghoe Koo knocked a 49-yarder through the uprights to start the scoring. And we’re off!

Now, for years we’ve grown accustomed to Seattle’s offense starting slowly— methodically probing the defense in hopes of setting up some high-leverage plays later. It’s a strategy that has worked less and less effectively over time, and carries the unfortunate risk of putting the Seahawks in scramble mode late just to have a chance. Anyone who has read this column over the last few seasons knows how hard I’ve clamored for that to change, and I certainly haven’t been alone. But this offseason felt different in that regard, like something was bubbling under the surface and, if that was the case, that energy blew the lid right off the pot in this one.

Seattle’s offense came out of the gates and immediately put the game where it belongs: squarely in Russell Wilson’s hands. Hilariously, the first snap ended in a sack, but that didn’t deter them one bit. That loss was overcome almost immediately with a 12-yard completion to Tyler Lockett followed by a first down catch from Will Dissly. It was the beginning of the most beautiful offensive approach we’ve seen from the Seahawks in years. After a 4-yard run from Chris Carson, they went right back to the air, with Wilson hitting Carson twice in a row, including a slick one-handed grab, before letting Carlos Hyde get his first carry as a Seahawk. Wilson would get sacked again on the next snap, but Atlanta bailed them out on 3rd & long with a pass interference on a deep shot to Tyler Lockett, and Russ made them pay for it. After a quick out to David Moore, Wilson took the snap and rolled right as the play unfolded. As the routes developed, Carson snuck out of the backfield and Wilson dumped it off to him for a walk-in touchdown and a 7-3 lead.

Atlanta’s attempt to answer was short-lived, despite a long completion to Julio Jones to put them in plus position. They handed the ball off on the next three plays, netting 7 yards and forcing head coach Dan Quinn to a make decision on 4th down. He chose to keep his offense on the field but Ryan’s pass attempt was batted down and Seattle came right back with a heavy counterpunch. A 13-yard completion to the love of my life DK Metcalf set up a slick option keeper from Russ that picked up 28 more. Just a throwback to his early years and a reminder that the dude can still scoot. Keeping their foot pressed firmly on the gas, Wilson dialed up a beautiful screen pass to Carson on the next play, and he followed his army of hippos down the field and into the endzone for his second receiving touchdown of the game. Second verse, same as the first.

Eleven passes, three runs, two TDs. Just gorgeous football, and the answer to all of my prayers. The pass-heavy approach kept the Falcons defense on their heels and allowed Wilson to coolly dissect the secondary as Seattle receivers criss-crossed their way all over the field.

Atlanta adjusted, however, and kept the Seahawks to just short passes for the rest of the half, making them punt twice. The home team added a Gurley TD and another field goal to make the score 14-12 at the half and what looked like a potential rout was all of a sudden very competitive and it made me wonder whether Seattle would continue with this sexy new approach after a couple of stalled drives. In fact, I’d go so far as to say I expected it. The early scores were nice but Pete Carroll has always, adamantly, been Pete Carroll and I figured they’d start to grind it out and deliver the type of body blows that he has grown so fond of.

I couldn’t have been more wrong, or happier to be so. The second half was just more offensive aggression, a beautiful mix of underneath jabs and over-the-top haymakers. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Wilson kept whipping the ball all over the field, hitting everyone in stride and completely gassing the Falcons defense. They threw on six of their first seven plays in the third quarter, with Wilson completing four of them and pushing them across midfield. After a deep attempt to Metcalf fell incomplete, Seattle switched gears and handed the ball off on the next two plays, leaving them with a 4th down on Atlanta’s 38. The recent version of Pete would have either tried a long field goal (boo) or punted (double boo), but the old Pete, the one that led Seattle to the most dominant Super Bowl performance in 20 years, would’ve let his nuts hang. Guess which one coached today :-)

Wilson stayed on the field and although they only needed 3 yards, Russ looked at the transformer lined up to his left and said fuck it. As Russ dropped back, DK threw a little wiggle into his in-and-up route and absolutely vaporized the poor sap tasked with guarding him. Even though it wasn’t the “safe” throw, Wilson wasn’t gonna miss this opportunity. His perfectly placed pass hit Metcalf in stride and he galloped into the endzone, making it 21-12. It was like the game kept testing Carroll, tempting him to revert to a conservative approach but he just kept passing both the tests and the ball.

Meanwhile, on defense, Seattle unleashed their newest weapon. Jamal Adams was everywhere today, stopping runs, breaking up passes, and blitzing like a got dang maniac. He rushed off the left edge, the right edge, and even shot the gaps. He defended every level of the field, letting everyone else do their jobs while he flew around making plays. And the few places he wasn’t, Bobby Wagner was. Two elite defenders making their presence felt in every facet.

The Seahawks followed up their latest TD by forcing a three-and-out on Atlanta’s next possession— or so it seemed. The Falcons faked the punt, trying to fool Seattle with a run up the middle but the ‘Hawks were having none of their shenanigans today. Marquise Blair shot in and knocked the ball loose and rookie special-teamer Freddie Swain pounced on it for the turnover.

With blood in the water, Wilson went back for another bite. Completions to Carson and Lockett set up a jet sweep to David Moore that he fumbled briefly before scooping it up and dashing for 12. On the next snap, Wilson hit his new TE Greg Olsen with a mind-meld TD from 7 yards out that was in the air before Olsen even turned around. How he caught that bullet I have no idea, but he was able to get his hands up in a blink and the ball stuck to them like they were covered in tree sap. 28-12. After another stop and another drive, Jason Myers squibbed his first FG attempt of the year through the uprights to extend the lead further.

Julio Jones would make three ridiculous catches on the next possession, his otherworldly abilities bringing the Falcons deep into Seattle territory. It felt like the Falcons’ last best chance, but those hopes were snuffed out a by a soaring, Superman sack by Benson Mayowa on 4th down from Seattle’s 11. Just another fantastic play in a high-leverage situation. The Seahawks responded with their only 3 & out of the day, and Atlanta came back with a flurry of completions to Ridley, Jones, and Russell Gage. Then, from Seattle’s 18, Gage and Ridley ran a double-cross and Shaquill Griffin collided with Adams. That sprung Ridley free and Ryan lobbed him an easy TD to reduce the lead to 13. The ensuing two-point attempt was directed at a posted up Hayden Hurst, but Adams sniffed it out, diving in front to break it up and preserve the margin.

Russell Wilson made sure that was as close as Atlanta would get, leading a long game-sealing TD drive that culminated with a 1-yard plunge by Hyde. And while the Falcons would get one more touchdown and recover an onside kick, it was far too little, far too late. A jump ball interception by Quandre Diggs in the endzone made it official, and the Seahawks started the season 1-0.

SMOKE RINGS

~The Russell Wilson MVP campaign got off to a ridiculous start today, as he had as many TDs (4) as incompletions. He spread the love around, completing passes to 9 different receivers and making it impossible for the defense to anticipate his next move. He was so good that the few passes he didn’t connect on came as a shock. He’s playing quarterback on a completely different level, making the ridiculous look regular. His deep passes were exquisite, his short passes sublimely timed. He even had an outrageous completion to Metcalf on a play where he sprinted right, slipped a sack, and then side-armed the ball under the hands of a defender and right on target. Mobile, accurate, elite— and his final line reflected the mastery he has acquired:

31/35, 322 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INTs, and a passer rating of 143.1 to go with 30 rushing yards.

We are witnessing greatness.

~The rushing game didn’t do a whole lot today, as the two longest runs came from Wilson and Moore. Outside of those two, the RBs combined for just 43 yards on 16 carries. Hyde actually got the majority of the carries (7 to Carson’s 6) and netted 23 yards to CC’s 21. Neither were great in that regard but Carson made up for it with stellar work in the passing game, notching 6 grabs for 45 yards and the two scores.

And just because I’m pro-pass doesn’t mean I don’t want the run game to succeed. I was hopeful that the aired out attack would open up some of these runs but it just never materialized. Nothing I’m going to look too much into after one game, but I hope it helps cement the pass-first strategy for this team moving forward.

~The receivers were phenomenal today, though Russ made their jobs a lot easier. Lockett led the way by catching all 8 of his targets for 92 yards while Metcalf caught 4 of his 8 for 95. We saw everything that made these two who they are today, with Lockett running routes so sharp they drew blood and Metcalf simply being a bigger, faster human than everyone else. Lockett is as consistent as they come, catching everything and constantly moving the chains whereas Metcalf is more of a high-variance proposition. We saw what made him so good (the speed and strength) as well as what makes him frustrating (a very regrettable drop). In fact, Metcalf targets accounted for all four of Wilson’s incompletions, as Russ literally went 27-27 throwing to everyone else.

Was nice to see Dissly back from that gruesome injury; he and Olsen are gonna make for a very nice pair of bookends on this team. Moore caught all three of his passes, and the rest were peppered around to Swain, Jacob Hollister, and Travis Homer. Just a very useful bunch.

~The defense looked pretty good today, I thought, and I wouldn’t worry too much about the 434 passing yards because A) they were game-script oriented and B) it took Atlanta 56 pass plays to get them. So much was made of Seattle’s inability to add a major market-mover on the defensive line but they were fairly disruptive today. Seattle held the Falcons to just 3.4 yards per carry on 21 attempts and recorded two sacks as well. Mayowa, Irvin, and LJ Collier all flashed at different times, along with Poona Ford and Jarran Reed. It might not be the sexiest group in the world, but they held their own.

Bobby Wagner continues to be in a class by himself in the middle of this defense. He’s drawn to the ball like a magnet and when he arrives, he tackles like he’s made out of bricks. Not much to say other than he’s awesome. Still.

The secondary had flashes of brilliance and stretches of struggle but, overall, were both active and aggressive. There was lots of buzz about Marquise Blair coming out of the VMAC this offseason and we saw why today. Last year he looked a little lost and a little careless but today he just balled out. His game speed is so fast and his coverage seems to have gotten much better. 7 tackles and forced fumble for him today. His safety-mate Quandre Diggs was his usual excellent self as well, recording 4 tackles of his own while breaking up two passes and intercepting one. I was also impressed by Quinton Dunbar, although he got shook by Ridley a couple of times (who hasn’t?). He’s gonna be a great addition once he finds his feet in this scheme.

The one guy that seemed to struggle a bit was Shaquill Griffin, who had trouble sticking with Jones and Ridley. Granted, that’s about as tough an assignment combo as the sport has to offer, but aside from a few bright spots (including a phenomenal pass breakup on a Hayden Hurst seam route), he just seemed to be a step away from where he needed to be most of the day. Nothing I’m too worked up over, but definitely something I’ll be keeping an eye on.

That brings us to the main course. Jamal Adams is a fucking superhero. There isn’t a bigger Earl Thomas fan in the world than me, and Adams might already be better than Earl ever was. And that’s not a sentence I thought I’d ever type about anybody. He had 12(!) tackles, two of which were for losses, as well as a sack and two passes broken up. He was an elite rusher, tackler, and coverage player today, enforcing his will at every level on the gridiron. We watched a football god today, and I am already Jonesing for more.

~Fun fact: the Falcons went 0-4 on 4th down against this defense today.

This game was everything I’ve ever wanted from this team. Aggressive, spectacular, risky. This team was coached like contenders, taking the fight to their opponent instead of waiting to be backed into a corner. They bared their teeth from the onset, and didn’t let go once they sunk them in. It was a killer’s mentality— the type necessary if you’re gonna take a real run at a Super Bowl. This is the most excited I’ve been for a Seahawks season in honestly probably 6 years and I absolutely cannot wait to see where they take us. Onward, upward, go ‘Hawks.

Jacson on Twitter | Cigar Thoughts Hub | Cigar Thoughts Facebook

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I started the season off by unwrapping a sensational cigar: the Symmetry Sublime by Ashton. Smooth as hell with a slow burn and tremendous flavor. It paired beautifully with the Ardbeg I spent the game sipping, and the two combined to provide a lovely little punch to the palate.

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 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

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