***As many of you know, Cigar Thoughts is now a podcast in addition to an article. And, as part of the package, you can now listen to this column on the go. This article can be found in audio form wherever you get your podcasts, and you can access it now by clicking below:
Scroll to the bottom to subscribe on your favorite platform and tap into the evolution of your Seahawks analysis. This week we were joined by one of my favorite Joe Fann of ESPN and next week we’ll have former national champion offensive lineman, Matt Nichols, to get nitty and gritty on the Xs and Os. You can listen to last week’s episode with Joe HERE.
You know, it doesn’t matter how things are going— and tonight was a true test of this— the minutes leading up to a primetime Seahawks game are their own brand of magical. And I know we’re biased because they’re our team but I really believe few uniforms shine under the lights like Seattle’s home blues do. With the rain dumping and the crowd rocking after inducting Matt Hasselbeck into the Ring of Honor, I found that familiar excitement sneak up my vertebrae like an excited kid creeping up the stairs to peek at the Christmas presents in the attic.
Then the game happened.
I’ve always said you’re allowed to be bad, and you’re allowed to be boring, but you absolutely can’t be both. For 10 years, the Seahawks have been neither, so maybe it’s time to pay tax on the gains. Whatever the reason, Seattle’s ineptitude was matched only by their lack of imagination.
The Seahawks started with the ball and handed it off to Alex Collins three times in a row for nine yards before punting. As upsetting as that is to write, they actually would’ve converted if Collins hadn’t bounced away from his gap to try and take it outside. And while Seattle was wasting precious offensive downs, DK Metcalf was kicking Marshon Lattimore’s ass. On the first play, Seattle’s alpha WR shoved New Orleans’ Pro Bowl CB to the turf. On the second play, Metcalf pushed him right in the face, leading to a facemask-yanking contest that DK seemed to find hilarious.
No matter— the drive still amounted to nothing and Michael Dickson came out to bang a 65-yard punt into the endzone. The Saints would get a first down on a 5-yard run from Alvin Kamara and an offsides on Al Woods but sputtered out from there.
On Seattle’s next possession, they again handed it off to Collins for no gain, giving them nine yards on four carries to start the game. Unable to stand it any longer, God broke her no-contact rule and intervened on the bullshit happening below. With the Almighty running the show for just one play, Geno Smith faked a handoff and dropped back looking down the right sideline. Meanwhile, Metcalf was getting hip-high on Lattimore and sprinting past him. Lattimore tried hand-fighting to keep close but DK slapped him away like a child as Smith let his arrow fly.
With Lattimore tumbling to the ground like he’d been pushed out of a moving car, Metcalf caught the ball, juked the safety, and galloped into the endzone for a career-long 84-yard score. It was a perfect distillation of what Seattle should spend the rest of the game doing, giving their best player the freedom to go out and win the game. It was one big ball-flopping shot at glory and DK made sure it paid off. 7-0 Seattle.
New Orleans would respond with a couple of quick first downs before a Bobby Wagner tackle on Kamara in the open field forced a 4th down in Seattle territory. For a moment it looked like the Saints would go for it but they relented and booted it to the 1. With the ‘Hawks backed up as far as they could possibly go, they handed the ball off to Rashaad Penny for the first time in 13 years. And while Penny stumbled forward for a yard, Metcalf continued tormenting Lattimore. As the play was ending, Marshon let his guard down and DK struck, thumping him right before the whistle. Lattimore responded with a shove to Metcalf’s back, drawing a flag and 15 crucial yards of field position.
At this point, it was clear that Seattle’s champion was here to win this game if he had to do it all by himself. But instead of leaning into their greatest advantage, the Seahawks inexplicably spent the rest of the game doing a whole bunch of diarrhea. Seattle would punt on their next three drives and four of their next six— the only exceptions being a sack-kneeldown finish to the first half and a missed field goal to start the second.
Meanwhile, the Saints got down to business. To this point, the defense had done a good job at the only thing they should really care about— stopping Alvin Kamara. After that, well... I don’t know if they got bored of being good or maybe just suffered from Imposter Syndrome, but they reverted back to the soggy-ass cushion coverages that have been getting smoked all year. And you’ll never guess what happened next.
The Saints’ next two drives would cover 171 yards and 12 minutes on 26(!) plays, resulting in 10 points. The first of those drives was the longest of the NFL season by any team and, while it’s not surprising that happened against the Seahawks, 19 plays and 10:12 of game clock is absolutely incredible of its own accord. Now, the case can be made that the drive should’ve been stopped twice before it got that excruciating (there was a super soft PI call against DJ Reed and an uncalled false start on a 4th & 1 conversion), but the ‘Hawks still managed to combine their patented lack of pressure with their characteristic soft coverage. The result was an incredible 12 touches by Kamara, helping push the Saints all the way down to the Seattle 4.
At this point, it seemed obvious that a touchdown was coming. After all, the Saints had scored a TD on 18 consecutive red zone drives— the longest streak in 15 years— and Seattle’s defense was, well, Seattle’s defense. That said, it’s the surprises that give life its flavor and the ‘Hawks shocked everyone by stuffing Kamara twice in a row. On the first one, Seattle got a great push up the middle and swung the Saints’ tireless RB to the ground at the 1. On the next play, Poona Ford ate New Orleans’ center for dinner and gobbled up Kamara for dessert in the backfield. That forced a 3rd & goal, putting the fate of the eternal drive in the goofy-ass hands of Jameis Winston. On that play, Winston bounced around in the pocket before whipping a pass towards Marquez Callaway in the back of the endzone. It probably would have gone for a score had Jordyn Brooks not skied up to swat the pass away with one outstretched hand. A truly remarkable play.
The Saints would accept their unrealized potential on the drive and take the easy three points to cut Seattle’s lead to four and, after a Gerald Everett taunting penalty killed the Seahawks’ ensuing drive, got right back to work. This time, the Saints only had a couple of minutes before the half but that didn’t stop them from covering 86 yards on seven plays, capping it off in a very Jameis way. Fumbling the snap, New Orleans’ QB scooped up the ball and winged it out to Kamara in the flat. With no defenders near him, Alvin won the race to the pylon, scoring the touchdown and giving the Saints a 10-7 lead before the half. The snag-and-scamper gave Kamara a ridiculous eight catches and 109 receiving yards in the game’s first two quarters.
Despite having possession for 12 of the game’s previous 14 minutes, the Saints got the ball again to start the second half and it almost felt like Seattle’s whole season was on the line with that drive. Fortunately, they clamped back down, keying in on Kamara they way they always should have, and forced a punt. The Seahawks’ first drive of the second half actually looked pretty fruitful, with Seattle picking up first downs on a short 3rd down pass to Tyler Lockett and a 12-yard jet sweep to Everett on the very next snap. Unfortunately, Smith would eat consecutive sacks after that, and a white-flag draw to Travis Homer on 3rd & 19 was the only reason they got back into field goal range.
Not that it mattered. Jason Myers, who came into the game five of seven on field goals this year, trotted out for a 44-yard attempt to tie the game. For a long time, this kick seemed automatic for Myers. On this occasion, however, Myers pushed the kick wide right, and Seattle remained in a hole.
Outside of the two long drives at the end of the first half, Seattle’s defense really played their asses off. Unfazed by the offense’s struggles, they forced another Saints punt and then, after Seattle punted it back, finally created a turnover. After a swing pass to Kamara gained 13 yards to the Saints’ 28, Winston found TE Adam Trautman on a slip screen in the left flat. As Trautman turned up field, Ugo Amadi came crashing down like the housing market in 2008. Hitting the ballcarrier low, Amadi forced the pigskin out of Trautman’s grip where it was pounced upon by Kerry Hyder Jr.
That massive turn of events gave the Seahawks the ball on New Orleans’ 32 yard line and they proceeded to gain exactly zero yards with the opportunity, with Collins rushing twice for nothing and Geno rushing an incompletion to a well-covered Freddie Swain. This time, at least, Myers would split the uprights and this game was somehow tied at 10.
Folks, this is where Seahawks games usually get weird. The time when everything that happened prior gets reduced to a footnote as time inverts and the ancient spirits begin to play drinking games with the outcome. That just wasn’t the case tonight, however. At no point, even when it was tied, did this feel like Seattle’s game to win. Their defense would bow up yet again to force a punt and their offense finally remembered that they have DK Metcalf.
After 40 minutes of run blocking and decoy routes, Smith eventually looked DK’s way again, missing him on a crossing route that would have gained 20+ only to follow it up with a 12-yard slant right back to him. Seattle would end up going 45 yards on this high-leverage drive, the bulk of which was gained on a nifty 28-yard catch-and-run that saw Swain ghost a defender with a hesi-move before turning upfield for a big gain. The Seahawks would get all the way to the Saints 24 before Geno did what Geno did best tonight; namely, take a drive-killing sack.
The 11-yard loss on 3rd down added extra difficulty to Myers’ ensuing go-ahead FG attempt, and Seattle’s kicker responded by yanking this one left— his third miss in his last five tries. Even so, the Seahawks defense didn’t back down. Their relapse in the second quarter aside, this was probably their best game of the season as a unit, and they came through one more time on this possession.
After stopping Kamara on the first two plays, SEA’s D brought pressure on 3rd down. Marquise Blair blitzed off the left side while Wagner ran a perfect stunt up the middle. Seattle’s perennial All Pro linebacker lunged at the opposing quarterback and wrapped up his ankles while laying prostrate on the ground. With Winston writhing in his grip, and the refs an exhale away from blowing the play dead, Blair came charging in from behind and cold-cocked Jameis in the facemask with his helmet. The play drew an obvious roughing penalty, extending New Orleans’ drive.
Consequently, this possession would eat up five of the remaining seven minutes, one of which came after another Al Woods offsides gave the Saints a first down on a field goal attempt. And while the Seahawks would keep the Saints out of the endzone, the extension of the drive cost them another valuable chunk of time. The possession culminated with an easy New Orleans field goal for a 13-10 lead with just under two minutes to play.
That meant that for the third time in three weeks, Geno Smith was out there with a chance to win the game on the final possession. And, for the third time in three weeks, it ended in disaster. On 1st down, Smith skipped a pass over the middle in front of Metcalf. On second down, he turned straight into a Malcolm Jenkins blitz for an eight-yard loss. On 3rd down, he danced around until Demario Davis— who absolutely dominated tonight— tracked him down for yet another sack. That created a 4th & 28— a scenario with literally no chance of success and Davis would cap off his heroic evening by nearly picking off Smith’s final desperation heave.
New Orleans would kneel out the rest of the clock to secure the win, knocking the Seahawks down to 2-5 in the process. It was Seattle’s third loss in as many home games this year, almost officially burying what used to be the greatest home field advantage in the league.
~We know the Seahawks offense has always been vanilla, but removing Russell Wilson from the equation highlights just how sad and predictable their process really is. Without Wilson available to pull the gameplan out of the flames down the stretch, Seattle’s caveman approach was laid bare for all its prehistoric faults. And Geno Smith struggled to operate even this most rudimentary of systems.
Smith has gotten progressively worse with each opportunity to prove himself over the last few weeks. And while it would be foolish to expect him to continue his torrid debut against the Rams, it’s been disconcerting to watch him consistently burn timeouts at the line of scrimmage, be unable to check out of disadvantageous looks, and miss a bunch of intermediate passes. His touchdown pass to Metcalf was a great throw and should not be discounted but even with that, he was only 12/22 for 167 yards while taking five sacks to subtract 38 from the total. After throwing the TD, his 26 pass plays resulted in 45 net passing yards. 45 yards. On 26 dropbacks. Unfathomable.
~The run game didn’t do jack shit tonight, which was to be expected against a Saints front seven that has shut down just about every running back it’s faced over the last two seasons. Not that that stopped Seattle from stubbornly trying. Despite having little success (3.2 YPC), and the fact that their two best players on offense are wide receivers, the Seahawks ran the ball on 24 of their first 40 plays. And while Alex Collins and Rashaad Penny were getting hammered repeatedly at the line of scrimmage, DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett were withering on the vine.
Collins definitely looked the better of the two but he was only able to scrounge 35 yards despite 16 carries. Penny fared even worse, notching just nine on six attempts. It was such an obviously ineffective strategy which is what made Seattle’s insistence on it so infuriating to watch. As twisted as it sounds, part of me worried about Seattle winning this game out of fear that in some convoluted way doing so would reinforce to Pete Carroll that this is the proper approach.
~Five minutes into the game, DK Metcalf torched one of the league’s best cover corners for an 84-yard score then didn’t see another target for 43 minutes. 38 straight plays without even giving your best player a chance. It defies any rational explanation. Sure, the weather is bad and yeah, you’ve got your backup QB in, but good God, man. You give your most talented player one opportunity early and he turns it into the longest pass play in over a decade and then you just ignore him for three quarters? That doesn’t make any fucking sense. I don’t care if he’s not wide open— your offense has been dog scrotum all night, let your Achilles go slay some god damn enemies. This game was frustrating on so many levels but the most unforgivable aspect of it all was their tragic avoidance of Metcalf opportunities. He’d finish with two receptions for 96 yards and a TD on the only catchable targets of the five he saw tonight. I can only imagine how pissed off that man is right now.
~Tyler Lockett didn’t have much of an opportunity to leave his mark on this game, turning a measly three targets into two catches for 12 yards. I know there’s not much that he could’ve done tonight with the way Geno was playing but still, that makes it five straight games without breaking 60 yards since his torrid start to the season. Check it:
In his first two games, Lockett had 12 catches for 278 yards and 3 TDs, averaging a gobsmacking 17 yards/target. In the five games since, he has only 17 catches for 157 yards on 29 targets— just over 5 yards/target. He’s been practically invisible.
Was nice to see Gerald Everett involved more today, though like almost everyone else, it didn’t account for much. Everett caught all three of his targets for 11 yards and added a 12-yard run to give him 23 total yards from scrimmage on the night— just barely more than the 15 he cost them by flipping the ball at a Saints player on the sideline (the sport’s stupidest penalty but still one he absolutely could / should have avoided).
~The defense was mostly awesome tonight, which makes it all the more a shame that Seattle couldn’t capitalize with a win. A week after keeping the Steelers to 345 yards, they held the Saints to 304. They were especially good against the run, allowing just 94 yards on 31 carries. In fact, they were pretty damn good against the pass too.
Alvin Kamara caught 10 of his 11 targets for 128 yards but aside from that, the Seahawks held Jameis Winston to 94 yards on 9/24 passing. That’s lights out defense. And yes, Jameis missed a couple of throws but by and large, if it wasn’t Kamara being a sorcerer in the open field, the Saints really couldn’t do diddly poo tonight.
~As usual, Bobby Wagner led the way. Coming into the week as the NFL’s leading tackler (again), he spearheaded the defense with a team-high seven tackles, not counting the sack that was nullified by the Blair penalty. Another rock solid performance from the Seahawks’ most consistent player.
~The fact that the Saints didn’t run a ton of plays (only 43 total tackle-able snaps) limited the number of available stats to be had for Seattle defenders. Nevertheless, Poona Ford balled out. He treated every interior run like a hungry hungry hippo, using his portly drumsticks to drive blockers off their mark only to release and make the tackle. He finished second on the team with six takedowns for a tackle share of 16%— a preposterous number for an interior lineman.
~Jamal Adams made a handful of impact plays in this one as well, and no boneheaded ones that I saw. Just two tackles for Adams tonight, but that number doesn’t account for the batted down pass, solid coverage downfield, and the two tackles for loss he created by beating his man and forcing ballcarriers back into the jaws of the defense. I dig it.
~Sidney Jones was the surprise starter tonight after Tre Brown’s magnificent debut last week and honestly he did okay. There was one point in the third quarter where he was beaten on back-to-back sideline routes but Winston missed both throws so no damage done. Other than that, he was steady. On the other side, DJ Reed got called for a soft-petal pass interference but was otherwise excellent. New Orleans wide receivers accounted for just four catches and 43 yards on 15 targets. That’s insanely good defense.
~Remember when Jason Myers didn’t miss a single field goal last year? I do. That was great. It’s just a reminder that there’s actually only one good placekicker in the NFL and their involvement in a game’s outcome should be as limited as you can possibly allow.
I think we can finally put this Pete or Russ debate to bed. I get that almost any team is going to look worse with their second-string QB but good coaching keeps that to just a step or two back. Without Wilson, the Seahawks have fallen down the stairs and broken their hip. At 2-5, the playoffs are a massive longshot, even with a Wilson return looking sooner than originally anticipated. Even if it only takes 9 wins to make the postseason, that means Seattle has to go 7-3 the rest of the way. What about the first two months of this season makes us think that’s realistic in any way? If it takes 10 wins, as I suspect it may, that’s an 8-2 gauntlet with three games against the Rams and Cardinals still waiting.
This team has no juice. All of the things that have gone right for them in recent years are going horribly wrong this season. A previously indestructible Russell Wilson is out for at least a month. The defense is among the most futile in the NFL when it comes to sacks, turnovers, yards allowed, and time of possession. Jason Myers is missing easy field goals in high-leverage moments, and the miracles that had become almost expected have gone completely missing.
Maybe Russ returns and magics his way into contention but even if that happens, we can no longer fool ourselves as to why this franchise has been as successful as they have over the last five years. This is a bad team, and it’s not that way because there are no good players. No, this team is bad because their process has been bad for a long time. Wilson has just been so good that they’ve been able to win 10-12 games a year despite being obviously flawed compared to the true contenders. Once Wilson is removed from the picture, Seattle’s shortcomings are laid bare. They are talented but predictable, and are regularly out-coached. Nothing about the way this team is currently constructed looks anything like championship material, and it forces one to ask how much worse will it get before things get better?
I don’t know the answer, but as a big fan* and massive appreciator of Pete Carroll and John Schneider, I simply don’t see any way this team gets back to the mountaintop with those two in charge. Just as importantly, I don’t see how Russell Wilson could view it any differently.
*Pete’s Win Forever book tangibly affected my approach to life, business, and relationships. Plus, those guys helped bring us our only ‘ship!
While I was never seriously worried about whether Wilson would be with the team this season, despite the offseason histrionics, I have to wonder what exactly is gonna keep him here any longer than he has to be. I guess I’m just not sure how Russ, who is obsessed with his own legacy, can look at what Tom Brady did last year and say yeah, “this is the ship I’m going to tie myself to for the next three, four, five years.”
It all just feels so incredibly bleak. It has for a while now— since the Minnesota game if I’m just speaking for myself. That said, I’ve held off on shoveling dirt because in the back of my mind I’ve always thought just wait, Wilson will return and drag these guys to the playoffs and all of this will look like prisoner-of-the-moment overreaction. Well, not anymore. This franchise— and by that I mean Jody Allen— is going to have to take a hard look at itself because the future of the franchise’s greatest and most important player hangs in the balance.
There’s a part of me that almost wants to see it crater. Not from any desire for anarchy or as a way to confirm my priors, but because being in the middle is the worst. Winning 9-11 games with bad process just because your QB is all-world kinda sucks because it can reinforce that all the poor coaching and bad drafts are actually okay because “look how many games we’re winning.” But we know what championship football looks like now, and we haven’t seen it in a very long time. This team has gotten worse and it lacks the draft capital and cap space to make quick improvements.
The only hope for sustained success— in my mind, in this moment— is to pair Russell Wilson with whatever coach and GM are going to maximize his skills. It’s just so blatantly apparent that that is no longer Pete Carroll. And when I say that, it’s not to discredit Carroll’s extreme influence on the greatness of 2012-2015. He deserves all of his flowers for that run. But the NFL is the planet’s fastest-learning, quickest-evolving organism and Carroll simply hasn’t adapted. At all.
We can appreciate that he is the most important coach in Seattle sports history without shackling ourselves to him in perpetuity. Success in the NFL is about evolution, and literally nothing about this game, or this season for that matter, indicates that the Seahawks are evolving at anywhere near the pace necessary to compete for Super Bowls. And if you can’t genuinely compete with Russell Wilson, Bobby Wagner, DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, Jamal Adams, Quandre Diggs, and Duane Brown, then the staff has got to go.
I wish I could finish this with a silver lining. I want to talk myself into this season being salvageable, into the open marriage between quarterback, head coach, and general manager being blissful and complimentary. I want to— I just can’t right now. Next up is a chance to cleanse the palate against the much more dysfunctional Jacksonville Jaguars, followed by a bye, followed by (hopefully) the return of Russell Wilson. Maybe I’ll feel differently in a month, but the evidence is mounting and in a hurry at that. I hope I’m wrong.
In the meantime, onwards and upwards my friends.
If you watched the live pre-game stream on Twitter (something we’ll be doing before every game), you already know that today’s cigar was the Toro #5 from My Father. I am often asked about what cigars are good for someone who is just learning about them, or who wants a few for a wedding or golf trip or bachelor party. My first answer is always My Father. You can find their stuff at most cigar shops and every online retailer, and Seattle Cigar Concierge has a bunch of their high-end lines. But I’m telling you, no brand of cigar is more approachable or more universally enjoyable (in my opinion) than My Father.
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