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Cigar Thoughts, Game 13: Rashaad Penny, y’all

Riding explosive performances from Rashaad Penny and Tyler Lockett, the Seattle Seahawks beat the Houston Texans 33-13 to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Houston Texans Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

***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:

For as insane as last week was, it kinda finally felt normal. And while the win over the 49ers was very wild, it was the type of crazy that’s become the comfort zone for Seahawks fans over the last 12 years. Fake punts, fumbles, a big comeback, and a goal line stand to win it— all seemed pretty par for the course normally, but this season has lacked that sort of craziness to date.

Coming off (another) season sweep of the Niners, Seattle looked to keep it rolling against a Houston Texans team that came into this one having lost 10 of their last 11. Almost every team excels at something, and that was true in this one as well, with today’s game featuring the two best teams in the NFL at punting it a lot. Both Seattle and Houston are averaging an astounding 5.5 punts per game, and we got to see plenty of that this morning. Even so, this contest also showcased a bunch of big, exciting plays, keeping the new juice flowing for Seattle’s season.

The Texans received the opening kick and proceeded to look like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers against a Seahawks defense that also struggled in the first half last week. Half-giraffe rookie Davis Mills went 5/5 for 73 yards, calmly carving up the ‘Hawks D in a manner reminiscent of the Vikings game earlier this season. I mean there was just nobody close to any of the receivers, including rookie TE Brevin Jordan for a short touchdown.

It was a harbinger of another frustrating stretch for the defense, but the offense jabbed back on their first possession, with Rashaad Penny ripping off runs of nine and 13 to start things off. After Alex Collins got two yards on two touches, Russell Wilson eluded pressure and hit Tyler Lockett on a jump ball down the right sideline. It was the type of play that highlights the mind-meld Wilson and Lockett have, as well as the unique athletic abilities of both.

On this play, Russ did everything that makes him great— reading the defense as he moved up through the pocket and then slipping out to his right with nothing there. Keeping his eyes up, he threw a perfectly-placed ball 30+ yards in the air, somehow high enough to carry the two leaping defenders but not too high for his springy, Lilliputian receiver. Lockett, for his part, also showed what makes him special— slipping behind the DBs as his quarterback bought time and then perfectly timing his jump. After high-pointing the football, he floated gently to the ground like a maple leaf on a breezy day, slapping his child-like feet against the turf in bounds for a 29-yard gain.

Russ would hit Lockett for five more on the next play but Penny would gain zero on his next two carries and the Seahawks finished the drive with three points after Jason Myers banged home a 38-yarder. After Houston punted to the Seattle 3 on their second drive, the Seahawks went right back to work with a beautiful combination of runs and passes.

Penny got five on the first play to give them some room to breathe, then Wilson hit DK Metcalf for eight on a slick in-and-out route two plays later. On the next play, Russ faked a short pass to Metcalf before lobbing it into a soft spot that the attention DK commands had opened up. As the ball spiraled towards its target, Locket hopscotched his way over, humming his favorite Taylor Swift song, and tumbled to the ground with another leaping catch for 24. That was followed up by a 25-yard bailout pass to Will Dissly and a three-yard run from Penny, setting the table for a play we’ve been waiting years for.

On 2nd & 7 from the Houston 32, Wilson turned and handed it to Penny who exploded up field before juking expertly through the gap and out to the right. The perimeter defender was then summarily erased by a wipeout block from Dee Eskridge, springing Penny free for the long score to give Seattle the lead. We just talked about Wilson and Lockett exhibiting the traits that set them apart and this play showcased the skillset that prompted Seattle to draft Penny in the first place. He took the ball with conviction, selling his run up the middle before hopping outside and outrunning the defense to pay dirt. You don’t have to watch his college tape for very long to see runs just like that and it was a long time coming at the pro level.

Now, this season has been full of frustrating trends but none have aluminum-foiled my fillings quite like Seattle’s penchant for allowing eye-gouging 12+ play drives to their opponents. It doesn’t matter how the rest of the game is going, the Seahawks are gonna do it at least once and the next possession was time for our weekly dose.

The Texans made the most of their turn, driving across midfield with all the urgency of a filibuster before finally settling for a long field goal. But wait! There’s more! The Seahawks illegally lined up over the long-snapper, giving Houston a free first down and allowing them to drain another three minutes off the clock before kicking a much shorter field goal. That tied the game up at 10 with about six minutes remaining in the first half.

Seattle would get a couple of first downs on their ensuing drive, pushing the ball to their opponents’ 43 before opting for the coffin corner punt on 4th & 5. Y’all know I’m a fan of going for it there, especially if you’re a 4-8 team playing a 2-10 one, but there is absolutely no debating that the decision to punt played out as well as it could have.

To start, Michael Dickson did what Michael Dickson do, booming a punt that could have made it out a corn silo without touching the sides and one-hopping it to the 1-yard-line. The Seahawks had a couple of timeouts left and used them perfectly, letting the clock run after the first short run and then using them after the ensuing two. That forced the Texans to punt out of their own end zone with a minute left and gave the Seahawks one last shot to score before the break.

Starting from his own 45, Russell Wilson wasted no time. Faking a handoff and dropping back (a reminder of the value of play-action even when the defense isn’t expecting run), Wilson stood in a clean pocket and let things unfold. To his right, Lockett sold an outside release on a go route before stutter-stepping the cornerback and slipping inside. I’m sure the CB expected to have some safety help but there was none to be found. Wilson set his feet and cocked his shoulders back to the optimum angle before launching the type of deep ball that we’ve been swooning over for years. This one was almost too easy, as Lockett glided beneath it for the score, but you could tell from Wilson’s PUMPED and JACKED reaction just how much hitting a pass like that meant to him. In an effort to keep things spicy, Myers swept the extra point left of the uprights and the Texans would drive far enough before the gun to try (and improbably hit) a 61-yard FG to make it 16-13 at the break.

For as hard as it was to see a relatively healthy Seahawks team struggle to separate from an atrocious Texans franchise, this was as close as it would get the rest of the way. Seattle came out of the locker room after the break and put the boot to Houston. The two teams politely traded punts, as is the custom in both cities, before the Seahawks got to work.

The next drive reminded me of the ones we saw during the first six quarters of the season— back when the offense looked shiny and new... and different. A couple of jet sweeps and plenty of DK Metcalf helped Seattle move the ball into scoring range. Wilson hit Metcalf for a quick seven on the first play and for 22 more three snaps later. Then, on the very next play, Wilson took the snap and backing out of trouble, found DK once again— this time for a touchdown inside the front right pylon. Sadly, the only reason it happened that way is because Gabe Jackson saved Russell’s life with a holding penalty.

Seattle ended up needing to take a field goal on the drive but still, the intention to be creative and to feed their monster was there and that’s what was most encouraging to me. That made it 19-13 and there it would stay, as the teams got back to their roots and punted on the next three possessions.

With the ball back in their hands and building off a six-point lead, Seattle continued to call their plays aggressively. After two Penny runs net just three yards, Wilson found Gerald Everett for 14 to keep the drive alive. Three plays later, he converted another 3rd & long by dotting up an open Tyler Lockett for 29. Then it was back to Metcalf for six more then back to Metcalf again on a pristine stop-and-go route up the left sideline for what should have been DK’s second TD of the game. The only reason it wasn’t was because the beaten DB grabbed Metcalf’s arm and kept him from coasting under the easy score.

Wilson, to his credit, went right back to his super soldier for what should have been another easy touchdown but his pass sailed behind a wide-open Metcalf at the 2. It just wasn’t meant to be, I guess, and Metcalf’s touchdown drought continued. Seattle still came through though, as Wilson found Everett on a little slip screen that saw him get tackled right at the goal line. It was ruled a TD on the field and while I’m not certain replay supported that call, I’m glad they upheld it after the game Everett had last week.

That score made it 26-13 and all that was left was to see was what the final margin of victory would be and how they’d get there. There would be one more score in this game, with the ‘Hawks effectively ending it the way they began. Penny would get three yards on the first play of the next drive, pushing the ball to midfield before zapping the Texans into extinction on the next one. Taking his second consecutive handoff, Penny burst off left guard, juked the lone remaining defender, and sprinted to glory. The 50-yard touchdown gave us our final score of 33-13, as Seattle moved to 5-8 on the season.

SMOKE RINGS

~Russell Wilson is officially back. He hasn’t had one of those face-melting, statistically absurd explosions yet this year but his efficiency the last two weeks has been nothing shy of elite. His numbers weren’t especially shiny but they reflected exactly the type of performance this team requires. Wilson completed 17 of his 28 passes (61%) for 260 yards (9.3 Y/A), 2 TDs, and no turnovers for a passer rating of 115.2.

Combined with last week’s effort, Russ is now 47/65 (72.3%) for 527 yards (8.1 Y/A), 4 TDs, and 1 INT— and that’s with Gerald Everett turning an easy score into a pick. It’s probably too late to matter this year but it does provide a great deal of relief and clarity to see old Russ back. And his presence should inject some interest into an improbable playoff push.

~Rashaad Penny just had the best performance of any Seattle RB this season. He’s become a punchline for this front office’s recent early-round misfires but today was a reminder of what the team saw in him when they took him in the first round four years ago. And it’s not like this is the first time we’ve seen this from Penny— when his tragic string of injuries began back in 2019, he was coming off a two-game stretch that saw him gain 236 yards and score 3 TDs on 33 touches.

Today’s effort showed the electricity that’s been missing over the last two seasons, as Penny gained 137 yards on just 16 carries, scoring twice and averaging an astounding 8.6 yards per run. And he looked amazing doing it, breaking off big runs but also finishing his short ones with shiftiness and power.

Listen, Rashaad Penny is a victim of a brutal misallocation of draft resources that made him unlikely to ever justify where he was picked. That should not be confused with a lack of talent and despite fighting back from a Prosise-amount of injuries, here he was annihilating the Texans defense. Penny is auditioning for a contract somewhere and while that may not come in Seattle, it was awesome to watch him ball out this morning. A feel-good performance all the way around, and one that should make this backfield his for as long as he’s healthy this season.

~Shaved-head Tyler Lockett is the NFL’s version of Headband LeBron. He was worthy of his own Marvel spin-off today, tormenting the Texans secondary with a flurry of quick releases, double moves, and acrobatic sideline catches. He was targeted a team-high nine times today, catching five of them for 142 yards and a score— a yardage total that as of this writing is the highest in the NFL this week.

Lockett is the type of player that has no margin for error in this league, and we’ve seen the precipitous drop-off in his production when he’s less than 100% healthy. When he’s fully tuned up, however, he might be the most annoying player to guard in the entire league. He is nothing short of elite when all four of his cute little cylinders are firing, combining all-world route running with almost perfect hands. He’s over 1,000 yards for the third straight season which, even in today’s pass-friendly era, is remarkable. His end-of-year numbers could be bananas.

~DK Metcalf was almost non-existent in the first half, seeing two passes thrown his way and turning them into a diving eight-yard catch and a pass interference penalty. At a point in the season where we’re judging stuff more off process than results, that first catch was nice to see because it came on a route we don’t normally see from Metcalf. Most of the time when DK starts his route towards the middle of the field, that’s how it continues; but on this one he jammed his foot in the turf and turned back out for a nice first down.

Much has been made, and rightly so, about the lackluster volume and quality of Metcalf’s targets over the last several weeks but they made a point of targeting him in the second half. They’d throw eight passes his way in the final two quarters, one of which was a TD called back on a hold, a second which caused a pass interference, and another way behind him that should have been another score. He’d finish with what looks like a very pedestrian line of four catches for 43 scoreless yards on eight official targets but his impact was much bigger than that. This could very easily have been an 80-yard, 2-TD performance.

~Remember last week when Gerald Everett hilariously fumbled twice and kicked a TD pass into a defender’s hands? Well, you wonder how a pro athlete is going to bounce back from something like that so it was great to see him get in the end zone today.

~The defense really struggled early, somehow allowing Davis Mills to complete his first 14 passes. They were exceptional pretty much the rest of the way, and I’ll talk more about that shortly, but we can’t gloss over how easy they made it on Houston in the first half.

They reverted to their Charmin-soft coverage, providing a ridiculous amount of cushion to all of the Texans receivers and making it very easy on a QB that has heretofore looked overwhelmed by the speed of the NFL game. The 16-play drive was maddening but they locked it up after that and even on that possession, they still only allowed three points.

~In the second half, they started dictating terms the way they should have from the get-go. Holding the Texans scoreless in the second half, they were led by their two stalwarts in the middle: Bobby Wagner and Jordyn Brooks. The duo, who came into this one ranked 1st and 4th in the NFL in tackles, combined for 25 more today. Bobby had 15 of them to extend his league-wide lead, looking as solid as ever. Jordyn, for his part, had a tough time in coverage early but got it together to close up the passing lanes and rallied to ballcarriers for yet another double-digit tackle performance.

~With Jamal Adams out for the season, Ryan Neal is gonna get a lot of run. As you know, I’ve been a huge fan of his contributions as a nickel safety but he struggled in his start today. He looked out of position on a number of passes in the first half but he also straightened up and flew right in the second half. He tightened up his coverage and attacked the ball en route to seven tackles of his own.

~Quandre Diggs was his usual excellent self, keeping a lid on the defense when his teammates struggled. He only had one tackle but I think that mostly had to do with his commitment to keeping everything in front of him.

~Ugo Amadi flashed a few times, including a fantastic tackle for loss and a key pass break-up in the two-minute drill at the end of the first half. With Adams out, everyone moves up a notch on the depth chart and it’s great to see Amadi make the most of his latest opportunity.

~Darrell Taylor is quickly becoming one of my favorite players on this defense. He had one of Seattle’s two sacks and would have had a second barring a defensive holding penalty. Also, Al Woods is wildly under-appreciated, something I’m guilty of us well. he had a hell of a game, particularly in the second half.

~Overall, I thought the coaching was much better in this one. My only real gripe is the bewildering softness of their coverage in the first half but I thought in total this team displayed rhythm and intention on both sides of the ball. I’d still love to see the offense move quicker but they executed beautifully and were explosive both on the ground and through the air.

The Seahawks looked, for the most part, cohesive and confident today and, with this win, are somehow just one game out of the final playoff spot in the NFC. Granted, they lost to the two teams battling for that last slot (Washington and Minnesota) but it’s funny that they’re even in it at all.

Seattle entered this game with roughly a 2% chance of making the postseason which means the rest of the games are likely more about seeing what you’ve got than it is about making a Super Bowl run, but today’s performance was a great step in the right direction on both fronts. It’s okay to be frustrated with this team while still acknowledging their excellence when it reveals itself. Seattle got off to a tough start against a bad team but imposed themselves on an inferior opponent down the stretch and won comfortably.

They weren’t perfect but expecting any team to be is a fool’s errand. If anything, this season has shown just how difficult wins in the NFL are and they should be cherished wherever they’re found. The Seahawks are 5-8 with four games to go. Two of them are against division opponents and hey, who knows?

But even if the playoffs are out of reach, I was really pleased with what I saw today and I hope we continue to see this team evolve as they play out the rest of the season. As we do, onwards and upwards.

The cigar for today is one I’ve been saving for the right mood and boy, did it deliver! The 1964 Anniversary Series Soberano Maduro from Padron was everything I hoped it would be, delivering a long-lasting smooth smoke absolutely loaded with flavor. I picked up a bottle of Laphroaig Lore specifically to pair with this stick, so I’m just grinning like an idiot over here.

This is the 3rd year of our incredible partnership with Seattle Cigar Concierge. They have the plug on some of the most insane stogies on the market and they’re offering them to Cigar Thoughts readers for 20% off. These are extremely special sticks, and among the most enjoyable I’ve ever smoked. To get the hook-up, 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 them up on Twitter: @SeattleCigars. Just be sure to mention that you’re a Cigar Thoughts reader. Many of you have taken advantage of this incredible opportunity and for those who have always wondered what elite cigars are like, this is the best chance you’ll get to step into that world.

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