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Cigar Thoughts, Game 8: Seahawks trick out the Jaguars, treat starving fans to a win

The Seattle Seahawks kept their playoff hopes alive with a commanding 31-7 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Jacksonville Jaguars v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

***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 listen to it right here:

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 an incredible guest— former All-Conference and National Champion offensive lineman Matt Nichols— who gets nitty gritty on the Xs and Os that make the Seahawks the Seahawks. You can check it HERE:

The Seattle Seahawks had lost five of their last six games coming into tonight, a stretch as barren as the Sahara. 0-2 since Russell Wilson’s injury, it wasn’t even the losses that bugged me— it was how they lost that has stuck in my gums like a sunflower seed shell that won’t go away. I’ll admit that I’ve been more sour than I’d like to be with this team but I can say that I’ve come by it honestly. Thing is, this isn’t just some season.

The Seahawks, writ large, are at a crossroads. Russell Wilson who, make no mistake about it, is the most important person to this organization, has made his frustrations known with the way things have been going. Then, it appears after a tumultuous offseason, he and head coach Pete Carroll got together with a marriage counselor and agreed to let bygones be and approach this year as a referendum on their relationship. And so far— wooooof.

There’s two ways to look at this Wilson-less stretch of football, and either way is more likely to confirm your priors than it is to change them. If you’re pro-Pete, you can look at two three-point losses and say that’s a coach preparing his team to compete without their best player. If you’re pro-Russ, you see a flawed system exposed by the lack of a savior at QB. Regardless, every Seahawks fan knelt at the altar of this Jags game, praying for absolution against the NFL’s worst franchise. And the Seahawks delivered.

Everyone expected Seattle to win this one, your beloved author included, so it became less about if and more about how. And the how kicked ass. I didn’t just want to see a victory today, I wanted to see assertiveness bordering on aggression and the ‘Hawks did exactly that.

The Seahawks won the toss and deferred, giving up a few first downs before Ryan Neal gambled on a Trevor Lawrence escape, abandoning his man to burn the boats and hard-charge the opposing QB. Seattle’s most recent starter made his gamble pay off, sacking Lawrence and forcing the punt.

Feeding off the defense’s stop, Seattle made their first drive count. Leaning heavily on the run as expected, Geno Smith used some effective rushes from Alex Collins and Rashaad Penny to set up a beautiful pass to Tyler Lockett on an out-and-up that was initially ruled a TD— but review found him to be a yard short. Cue the least imaginative goal line offense this side of Pop Warner.

Three straight handoffs into a nine-man box yielded predictable results, poor process bailed out by an athletic sneak by Smith on 4th down. How is a QB sneak athletic, you ask? Well, simpleton, let me tell you. Taking a snap in a 0-0 game with the team’s narrative on the line, Smith exploded out of his squat position to soar over the scrum, reaching the ball over threshold and into a 7-0 lead.

Now, Seattle’s defense played their third straight fantastic game and shut down the Jags for the entirety of this contest. The teams traded three-and-outs before Quandre Diggs jumped a crossing route for his third interception of the season. Replay showed that the receiver cut off his route, but that doesn’t erase the fact that Diggs saw an opportunity and committed to it. The WR’s truncated route just made his job easier, is all.

Turnovers have been hard to come by for Seattle over the last few years, and capitalization on them has been even rarer. Not so today, as the Seahawks strung together eight solid plays, culminating with the type of throw that Geno should have been attempting ever since getting the job. With a 1st & 10 from Jacksonville’s 16, Smith faked a handoff and looked right. In his sights was arguably the most physically gifted receiver on the planet, perfectly covered by former Seahawk Shaquill Griffin. Not that it mattered, and therein lies the rub.

There are maybe five, six teams with the luxury of having a bail-out wide receiver, and Seattle’s reluctance to take advantage of that ranks at the top of my frustrations. Today, however, they paid their penance. Smith threw a ball 11’ in the air towards the right front pylon on this play, a spot only the chosen few could reach. DK Metcalf skied over his former teammate, plucked the fastball out of the air, and twisted his god body enough to drag two feet in the paint for a score. 14-0. It was a play that highlighted the one-off advantage Metcalf offers. Seattle didn’t score this touchdown because they out-schemed anybody, they scored because they recognized that they had the best player on the field and gave him a chance to prove it. There is just no reason not to do this 2-3 times a game.

The rest of the game was pretty academic at this point, with one team playing like the second winningest franchise of the last decade and the other playing like the worst. On the one calendar day of the year that rewards imitation, both teams chose to be 100% who we all thought they’d be at the beginning of the season.

Seattle would spend the rest of the first half controlling the clock on both sides of the ball, forcing punts on defense and ticking off first downs on offense the way their opponents have all season long. On the final possession of the first half, Seattle continued with today’s M.O., using the tepid threat of the run to set up easy completions for their fill-in QB. Smith consistently dotted up Lockett, feeding him eight first half completions on eight targets to keep the chains moving. Helping them along, the Jaguars committed three drive-extending penalties on this possession alone, turning two third down failures and an interception into three Seattle first downs via a personal foul, defensive holding, and an offsides. The Seahawks capitalized with a field goal right before the gun, sending Seattle to the locker room with a 17-0 lead and the ball coming back to them after the half.

The third and fourth quarters lacked drama in all the ways we’ve longed for for years. Receiving the second half kick, I was concerned that they’d turtle up with predictable runs, daring the defense to protect the lead they’d aggressively built. Instead, they continued to run play-action and pre-snap motion, dictating the game the way a poker player would when they hold 75% of the table’s chips.

Instead of turning a big lead into a slog-fest, they kept the pressure on, forcing the ball into Lockett and Metcalf before turning the play sheet over to the running backs. The result was four second half completions to Lockett for another 30 yards and a slick motion TD to Metcalf in the left flat. It was the type of “here’s who we are, fuck you” offense we’ve all been craving. During the first half of Carroll’s tenure, that looked like an aggressive run-first approach. To Pete’s credit, today was all about the fact that his best offensive players line up outside, and he (thankfully) didn’t shy away from the fact.

Y’all know I’m a pass-first motherfucker but that has as much to do with Seattle’s personnel as It does with my objective inclinations. If the Seahawks ran the ball as effectively as they did with Marshawn Lynch or, hell, pre-injury Thomas Rawls, then got damn— let’s ram it down their throats. But ranking top-5 in yards per pass and bottom-12 in yards per handoff, it just doesn’t make sense to keep banging your head against whichever brick wall you happen to face each week. To Seattle’s credit, they favored the pass today, a decision that yielded 8.1 yards per attempt vs just 2.7 yards per rush. And while the final line denotes a 54-46% split, the bulk of the damage was done through the air while Seattle salted away the game on the ground late to bring that split closer than it really was functionally.

The story of the second half was Seattle’s defense or, depending on your perspective, Jacksonville’s offensive ineptitude. Regardless of how you break it down, the Seahawks didn’t allow a point for the first 58 minutes, finally giving up a garbage-time TD pass long after the final outcome was determined. Trevor Lawrence’s late TD pass to Jamal Agnew made it 24-7 but that indent into Seattle’s margin was quickly erased by the second-coolest special teams play* the Seahawks have turned in all season.

*for my money, nothing will top Michael Dickson’s 68-yard punt after having his initial kick blocked

Let me back up for a minute. There was so much about this game (12 penalties, 7 total points, etc) that indicated a white-flag approach from Jacksonville, but nothing more so than the decision-making surrounding their only score. Spending nearly the entire second half down 24-0, the Jags were ostensibly behind by three scores. And for most of the game, their play-calling reflected that desperation. They attempted four 4th downs in this contest, completing one, but when they finally breached the goal line late, they inexplicably settled for an extra point, keeping it a three-score game.

Urban Meyer, the Jags’ embattled head coach spent much of the second half without a headset, finally strapping it back on in the fourth to, presumably, field offers from struggling college programs. Jacksonville’s criminal lack of discipline is one thing, but kicking an extra point after scoring down 24-0 is unforgivable. And if that wasn’t bad enough, check out what happened next.

With less than two minutes left and still down 17, the Jaguars lined up for an onside kick. The ‘Hawks called a timeout right before JAX’s kicker bounced an attempt straight to Travis Homer who, hearing the whistle, downed it immediately. At this point, I turned to my buddy and said, “Homer could have housed that if he wanted to”. On the next try, the Jag’s kicker bounced an identical short-hopper to Homer who this time seized the moment. Cleanly fielding the bounce, Homer shoulder-shook the one defender with a shot and sprinted up the left sideline for Seattle’s first special teams TD in I don’t know how long. His teammates mobbed him in the endzone, putting the royal decree on a lopsided win this fan base has been craving.

31-7. 3-5. Hope.

SMOKE RINGS

~Geno Smith was excellent today, starting 14/14 and doing so throwing almost exclusively to his two good WRs. And as much as I hate that it took three weeks to figure out 2+2, I was thrilled to see it today. He’d finish 20-24 for 195 yards with two passing TDs, a rushing score, and no turnovers. His passer rating was a Wilson-esque 128.3 as he confidently guided his team to a home win over an inferior opponent.

For the first time in his tenure, the Seahawks built a pass-first program around Smith and he responded with his most confident performance. Completing over 80% of his passes, Smith trusted his receivers, throwing anticipation routes instead of bailing out of the back of the pocket. He did take three more sacks today, two of which were the result of him fleeing the pocket prematurely, but more often than not he stepped through pressure to deliver chain-moving strikes. There was no reality in which he continued his starting role beyond Russell Wilson’s recovery but that was never within his range of outcomes anyway. Smith’s job was to care-take for the franchise in the interim and for the first time, he delivered on his role.

Geno Smith was tasked, today, with fending off oblivion for this team and he did so admirably. Here’s hoping it’s the last we see of him. Respectfully. But before we shove him off to sea and fire the flaming arrow onto his pyre, let’s learn from the fact that 78% of his targets in the best game of his career went to Lockett and Metcalf. Do that when Wilson is back— for real.

~The run game did jack shit today, which ended up being okay. Despite Carroll’s insistence on banging his RBs unimaginatively into the defensive front, they were just effective enough to provide the balance necessary to unleash Geno. Alex Collins got the bulk of the totes, turning 10 carries into 44 yards but the rest of the team garnered just 25 yards on 15 tries. Travis Homer gained nine yards on four carries while Rashaad Penny’s seven carries yielded just seven yards. Deejay Dallas only got one tote and gained six yards but by the time the scorecard was submitted, Seattle had just 69 yards rushing on 25 attempts. Further proof that this team’s strength lies with its wide receivers. Speaking of...

~Welcome back Tyler Lockett. Almost invisible since Week 2, Lockett made himself extremely available to Smith today, earning 13 targets and translating them into a season-high 12 catches for 142 yards and coming 6” shy of a touchdown. He ran his routes with conviction and, more importantly, his QB trusted him. A lot of Lockett’s production over the years has come from bailing out broken plays but today he won early in his routes and was rewarded with quick passes that kept the ball in his offense’s hands. I was beginning to wonder, against my better judgment, just how QB-dependent Lockett was. Today’s performance put those fears to rest.

When in doubt, throw the ball to DK Metcalf. While Lockett garnered an insane 54% of the target share, Metcalf made his meager opportunities count. In addition to his skying 16-yard TD in the first half, DK also caught all five of his other targets, finishing with 6 catches for 43 yards and two scores. His second touchdown came on a slippery little out route out of motion from the five, easily beating Griffin to the front left corner of the endzone for the clinching score.

Unforgivably, DK Metcalf has received just seven targets per game— 56 total on the year. Despite that, he has a league-leading eight touchdowns, a TD% of 14.1— which is objectively insane. The average throw to Metcalf has been Seattle’s best play this season, accounting for nearly 12 yards and one TD per game. He should be seeing double the chances he’s received so far, and it is my hope that he’s force-fed once Wilson returns.

Before I move on, let me acknowledge something. We all know that DK is bigger, faster, and cooler than anyone else on the field, no matter the opponent. But despite all that, two, nay three, concerns have hung over his ascent to greatness. One is his exuberance, which has resulted in a hilarious amount of post-play penalties, including his dog-humping of the goal post after his first score. I honestly don’t care about any of that, because he’s a young kid dick-slapping the best defenders on the planet and hasn’t backed down to anyone, no matter how many All Pro designations are guarding him. I hope that never changes.

The other criticisms have been his route running and ability to haul in contested catches. Resigned to half a route tree through most of his first two seasons, he’s now shown the ability to win on a bunch of different routes beyonds stops and goes. I had lunch with Michael Bumpus recently and asked him what the most important skills a receiver can have are. His response: having a plan. Bumpus, one of the highest-recruited prospects out of high school and a prolific collegiate receiver that earned some time in the NFL, said that on most routes, things don’t go according to plan. It’s then, he said, that receivers show their true value. I asked him who the best he’s ever seen is at having a plan and he said it was Tyler Lockett. I asked him “if Lockett is a 10, what’s DK?” He told me he’s a 7, and improving quickly. He gets to an 8 or 9? Lights out for the rest of the league. Fucking feed the man.

DK Metcalf will likely be, at some point in his career, the best wide receiver on the planet. The things keeping him from reaching that pinnacle to date are, in order:

-Pete Carroll’s philosophy
-His route running
-Contested catches

There’s nothing he can do about the first thing. We’ve already seen his improvement on the second mark. But it’s the strides made in contested-catch situations that anchors me on his ceiling. His first touchdown was the absolute ideal of being an alpha wide receiver, maximizing his athletic advantage to snag a tough catch in coverage and drag two feet for a score. His second touchdown was a clean win on his route. Everything else was him just being a damn dawg, relentlessly determined to grab the ball regardless of circumstances.

With Geno as QB, Metcalf has been targeted 24 times. He’s turned that into 20 catches for 239 yards and four TDs. If he keeps that up with Wilson back, it’s game over for every secondary he ever faces.

~I’m finally ready to admit this defense has turned a corner. I’m gonna give myself a caveat if Aaron Rodgers carves them up after the bye, but since the Rams game, this unit has balled the fuck out. Yeah it’s the Jags and yeah there’s a lot of jokes that come with that but Jacksonville came into this game averaging 19 points and they got seven today. And the only score came way after the outcome was in doubt. Seattle shut Jacksonville out for 58 minutes today, and has only allowed 14 points per game in Wilson’s absence. For context, the 2012-2015 LOB Seahawks that led the league in points allowed for an unprecedented four straight seasons? Well, they allowed 15 points per game over that stretch. This defense is not that defense, not by a long shot, but credit is due where it’s due. For as hard as I’ve been on Pete Carroll and Ken Norton Jr this season, this makes three straight terrific performances from this defense. I’ll eat my own shit if they keep this up the rest of the way.

~So how’d they do it? Well, it starts up front. The pass rush was really good today, and while they only recorded one sack, they pressured Trevor Lawrence into his worst performance as a pro. The #1 overall pick was reduced to a passer rating of 68.8 and a pitiful QBR of 11.1. He completed just 32 of his 54 passes for only 238 yards— a mere 4.4 yards per attempt. The Seahawks front spent their whole day terrorizing Lawrence, pressuring him on nearly every drop back and batting down four passes.

Carlos Dunlap won’t bolster his trading card stats much with this performance but he might have been Seattle’s best defender today. Officially credited with just one tackle, he had a ton of pressures and knocked down two passes. He almost recorded a safety— a non-call on a hold in the endzone, and I promise you it’s the ill-fitting #8 on his gigantic frame that will be tattooed on the inside of Lawrence’s eyelids tonight.

Two weeks ago, we weren’t sure if Darrell Taylor would ever play a snap in the NFL again. Instead, he was back out there. being the nuisance this franchise drafted him to be. Fucking great to have him back.

~Seattle was pretty good against the run, too. Holding the Jags to just 82 yards on the ground, they forced Jacksonville to try and beat them through the air, something they were wholly unequipped to accomplish. The Jags’ leading rusher was Carlos Hyde, who gained only 32 yards on nine carries. Bobby Wagner, who came into this game leading the NFL in tackles, notched 14 more and, unlike so many other games this season, was able to make almost all of them within four yards of the line of scrimmage. He carries a huge contract but he insists on justifying it every single week. God bless that man.

~The secondary was SO bad in September, but they’ve been lowkey great in October. They wrapped up the second month of the season by holding a comeback-oriented Jags offense to just 238 passing yards despite a ridiculous 54 attempts. The offense’s efficiency forced their opponents into a pass-always approach but the Seahawks didn’t so much as wince.

238 passing yards. That’s just 4.4 yards per pass attempt and, factoring in the sack, just 4.1 yards per pass play. They literally allowed fewer yards per pass play than the NFL at large is allowing per rush play. Quandre Diggs led the charge, picking off a pass and eliciting “oh shit”s from the crowd on no less than three enormous hits. Seattle has backed themselves into a corner with some big contracts but if they’re going to fend off a rebuild, nobody is more deserving of the next extension than Diggs. Only three tackles today but every single one of them was contract-worthy. Man plays like a state-of-the-art heat-seeking missile and, with his third pick of the year, becomes the only active player with at least three interceptions in five consecutive seasons.

No Seahawk has taken more heat this year than Jamal Adams. Much of that comes from the fact that he was the target of John Schneider’s latest mortgage-punt and his position-setting contract. The amount of great he has to be to justify those moves is almost unattainable but he did it all today. Vacillating between coverage and pressure, he made his presence felt in a way that’s been missing all year long. Adams recorded 10 tackles this afternoon, making plays at all three levels. Y’all know me— I’m an enormous Jamal Adams fan. Today was a perfect example of why I like him so much. With everyone else handling their business, my man was free to hunt and he’ll go home with a satchel-full of scalps.

DJ Reed got hurt, which sucks, because he is good and rad. Sidney Jones moved to the right side in his stead which brought 2021 Jacson-crush Tre Brown into the game, and Brown continued to rule and fuck. If he’s as good as I think he is, this defense will be transformed moving forward.

~Seattle punted and kicked well. These are things that swing the win probabilities of a lot of games and while they didn’t really matter today, it’s always nice to see Michael Dickson and Jason Myers handle their shit.

The Seahawks are 3-5 and, as a result, just one game out of the final playoff spot. On one hand this is very encouraging, with (hopefully) Russell Wilson returning after the bye. On the other hand, the slew of close losses makes their current situation tough to accept.

For the sake of my sanity, I am choosing to believe this is a step in the direction of a playoff push. With the direction of the franchise hanging onto the precipice by one hand Cliffhanger-style, it’s either that or oblivion. If shit don’t go right the rest of the way, there is a very real set of dominoes that fall which send this team into a multi-year rebuild with no immediate hope in sight. By the other token, a surge to barely missing the playoffs or losing in the first round again may anchor the ‘Hawks in NFL purgatory— not good enough to compete for a Super Bowl but too good to tear it all down.

Personally, I hate being in the middle, and the middle sort of feels like the ceiling— which sucks. And while I don’t necessarily blame the Russ-less losses to the Steelers and Saints for their situation, it’s the indefensible breakdowns against the Titans and Vikings, at full strength, that stick in my craw.

Maybe this team is good. The curb-stomping performance we saw today certainly raises the admittedly low ceiling but I genuinely fear being too good for massive change but not good enough to scare the Lombardi. At 3-5 the season is technically still alive, and letting the dust settle during a bye week may brighten the team’s chances. I’m choosing right now, in this moment, to believe. For one more season, magic is still possible— a run still attainable. I’ve seen enough from the Russell Wilson chapter to keep turning the page with optimism. I’m choosing joy.

At 3-5. Fuck. Whatever. A week off offers opportunities for self-reflection and improvement. In the meantime, it’s onwards and upwards.

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The 2021 season of Cigar Thoughts is also proud to be sponsored by Fairhaven Floors and Brandon Nelson Partners in Bellingham, WA.