Before we get to the article, I want to announce something I’ve been working on for a long time. With the help of the extraordinarily talented producer Mike Barwin, I’m thrilled to bring you the Cigar Thoughts Podcast. With artwork from ESPN’s Grant Goldberg, original music from Dylan Hanwright, and a list of guests that I can’t even believe— this is gonna be a special experience for Seahawks fans and fans of football in general.
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There will be a weekly show discussing the most recent results, breaking news, and looking ahead to what’s next— starting with the one and only Danny Kelly this week and the legendary Danny O’Neil after the next game. Also starting next week, there will be an weekly audio version of this article you can listen to on the go. We’re gonna grow it from there but this should be one hell of a start.
I’m beyond excited about this and am extremely grateful to everyone who has supported Cigar Thoughts over the years. This is just the beginning— onward and upward from here.
Now, about that game...
The Seattle Seahawks opened this season with six exquisite, fully engorged quarters of football followed by two completely flaccid ones (plus an OT). The result was a disappointing 1-1 record but, as I said last week, there were still a lot of reasons to think this team can be very, very good this year. In order to reach what I believe to be their lofty potential, however, they’d need to dispose of a feisty Minnesota Vikings team.
The Vikes came in 0-2, largely because game-ending field goals went their opponents’ way in each of their first two games, but they wouldn’t be pushed over in this one. Minnesota is one of those teams with a lot of individual talent but an uncertain identity. And without their all-world running back Dalvin Cook, I was curious to see just how they’d attack a Seahawks team still reeling from the beating Derrick Henry gave them a week ago.
That would have to wait, though, as Seattle received the opening kick with a chance to land the first punch. Fortunately for the ‘Hawks, they employ a couple of players with about the most perfect, capable bodies on the planet— and they didn’t hesitate to lean on them early.
Chris Carson and DK Metcalf, each of whom were volcanically crafted, took complete ownership of the first drive of the game. On the first play from scrimmage, Russell Wilson faked a handoff to the former, circled around, and zipped a pass into the latter for 17 yards. Wilson then went to Carson on the next three plays, picking up 13 yards and another first down. After that it was Metcalf over the middle, and DK slalomed his way down to Minnesota’s 10 for a 28-yard gain. Two plays later, Metcalf scared the CB with an up-step before breaking hard to his right. With the defender’s feet stuck in concrete, Metcalf received the easy pass and won a footrace to the pylon to make it 7-0.
The Vikings wasted no time in answering. The opening notes of what would eventually become a virtuoso performance for Kirk Cousins were sweet to the ears of Minny’s fans. Cosuins completed all five of his passes on that possession, concluding with a 7-yard score to Tyler Conklin to tie it up. At this point, I expected an absolute boat race, with the first team to 40 having the best shot to win it.
That inclination was backed up by Seattle’s next drive, which covered 40 yards over 11 plays and culminated with a 53-yard field goal from Jason Myers, extending his franchise record for consecutive attempts made and giving Seattle a 10-7 lead. After forcing a punt on Minnesota’s next possession, the Seahawks got right back to work.
First it was Freddie Swain taking an end-around for 11, then Wilson found Metcalf up the left side for 21 more. With the defense backpedalling, Wilson would hand it off to Carson on the next four plays. The results were gains of seven, three, eight, and 30— the last being a sprint left that saw Duane Brown obliterate his man to spring the rhino to glory. Running through a four-lane highway, Carson sprinted past the remaining defenders and into the tunnel to give Seattle a 10-point lead.
For the third straight game, Seattle ha opened up a two-score lead in their first three drives. For the second straight game, that would be as good as it got. I’d say that the Vikings wasted no time scoring their second touchdown but since they’re playing Seattle, they took plenty. The thing the Seahawks have been best at this year is letting opposing offenses eat up 5+ minutes on scoring drives. We’ve seen them be good at this in the past, but they’ve elevated their performance to elite levels this year.
This possession would cover 85 yards on nine plays, eating up nearly six minutes of game clock and ending with an Adam Thielen touchdown over the middle. It was an excruciating experience, as so many opposing drives have been over the last few years, with Cousins and his boys converting third down after third down. It looked like Seattle had stopped them initially but a defensive holding call against Ugo Amadi negated a sack. That was all Minnesota would need, as Cousins and Alexander Mattison took turns taking chunks of flesh out Seattle’s defense. Once Thielen hauled in that score, the game was 17-14 and right back in the balance.
Now, first-half Seattle might be the best offense in the NFL, and they started to show that once agin with their next opportunity. Wilson found Penny Hart for seven, then Will Dissly on a slippery underneath route that led to a 39-yard catch-and-run. The drive stalled a bit from there, but the big play put Myers in range for a 44-yard field goal. In a situation that’s been automatic for the last 21 months, it seemed a simple matter of course that Seattle would extend their lead to six. Instead, Myers’ streak hooked left and the Vikings defense dodged a bullet. It would be the closest Seattle would get to scoring for the rest of the game.
Minnesota took over with 3:16 left in the half and used nearly all of it to go 56 yards in 12 plays— a maddening bloodletting that has become far too common for the Seahawks defense. It ended with a TD pass to Justin Jefferson in the right front corner of the end zone but honestly, if it wasn’t him it would have been someone else. The Seahawks played defense like a scout team and the Vikings took full advantage. That put Minnesota up 21-17 going into the break and while we didn’t know it at the time, the game was effectively a wrap.
The second half of this game almost perfectly mirrored the second half of last game. Seattle only got four possessions over the last two quarters because their defense simply couldn’t get off the field. The refusal to risk a huge play continues to cost the Seahawks easy first downs underneath, with their defenders looking as confused as dizzy-bat contestants and barking at each other after almost every play. The Vikings didn’t even need to score much in the third and fourth quarters, because the severe disparity in possession cost Seattle’s offense any hope of rhythm.
The Vikings’ first possession of the second half lasted 12 plays and ended in three points. Their second drive took 11 plays and netted three more. Their third one lasted 12 again, with Cousins comfortably picking the Seahawks apart like so many petals on a daisy. If it’s possible for a defense to make an offense’s job easier, I haven’t seen it. It didn’t matter if Minnesota called run or pass, they moved the ball between the 20s with ease. The only thing keeping them from scoring even more was the proximity to the endzone squeezing Seattle’s prevent defense tight enough to hold them to three.
On the other side of the ball, the offense lost all their swagger. The O-line was overmatched he'd, looked confused, and put Wilson in tough spot after tough spot. As the Vikings lead continued to grow incrementally, and with six-eight fewer minutes available after each drive, Seattle’s offense got more and ore desperate and, as a result, more and more transparent. With the threat of the run eliminated, Minnesota’s defensive front pinned their ears back and charged Wilson with no fear of reprise.
No longer granted the ability to go through his reads, Russ was forced to throw early, letting Vikings defenders gamble on routes and shrink the available windows. Coming into this game, Wilson was far and away the most effective quarterback in the NFL when blitzed. To bring an extra rusher has been suicidal for opposing defenses but in the second half, the Vikings pass rush were bullets to Seattle’s paper targets. Forced to throw to his first read time after time, Wislon’s passes came out quick and the pass coverage pounced. Gone was the separation that receivers were used to having time to create and, with no run game to worry about anymore, the Minnesota secondary was free to attack the first move on every route.
This game felt over long before not was actually over. Maybe the Seahawks would’ve gotten one more touchdown had either blatant pass interference been called against the Viking late but it really wouldn’t have mattered. The Seahawks played 20 great minutes and 40 poor ones. The Vikings stayed consistent throughout. The result was a 23-0 run for the Vikes to close this one down, pushing Seattle even further into the basement of the league’s toughest division.
*Is Pete Carroll done? I mean, if this team can’t play defense, what exactly is it he does? I don’t ask this question as some sort of hot take, or as the product of recency bias. I mean it sincerely. Carroll spent 40 years building a defense that revolutionized the sport; and when the league finally caught up, what has he done to counter-punch?
Every offseason, I find my admiration for, and appreciation of, Pete Carroll swelling. His ability to run a program is a wonderful thing to watch and a characteristic that is hard to find when you look across the NFL landscape. And yet, for the fifth or sixth straight season, I find myself annoyed by so much of what I see on the field.
It’s difficult for me to look at the teams that have a real shot at winning a Super Bowl and compare them to what we see from Seattle each week. There is nothing about this defense that says they can beat, or even slow down, any half-decent offense. The result is an incredible amount of pressure on the offense— a unit that is limited to eight possessions a game but still needs to score 30+ to win.
What is the argument for Pete Carroll at this point? I’m not trying to be difficult— I’m legitimately asking. Are the chances that the next coach is worse decent? Definitely. Is the risk of a lower floor worth gambling for a higher ceiling? That’s a question I hope ownership is brave enough to ask themselves.
*We’ve reached the point of the discourse where many are blaming Russell Wilson any time he doesn’t pull his team’s ass out of the fire. Wilson currently leads the NFL in yards/attempt and passer rating. He’s 6th in Comp%, 4th in TD%, and hasn’t turned the ball over. His margin for error with this defense is effectively zero. His current passer rating is 10 points higher than the NFL record and yet here he sits at 1-2.
Now, this isn’t to absolve him of all blame. In three games the Seahawks have exactly one second-half touchdown. They’ve scored a grand total of 13 points in the second halves of games this year and Russ has absolutely missed some throws during that stretch. It’s such a weird thing to see, too— for years we’ve watched this offense sputter in the first half only to go nuclear late in the game to steal dozens of wins. This season has seen the exact opposite. There’s no question that Wilson, like just about any other QB, could be better— what sucks is that he lacks any cushion for being less than perfect.
*I do think a lot of this falls on Shane Waldron. His opening sequences have been damn near immaculate so far this season. Seattle has scored on three of their first four drives in every game this season— executing his scripted plays with aplomb. But once the defenses have adjusted, Waldon’s scheme has struggled to overcome. This defense isn’t anywhere NEAR good enough to count on three good offensive drives a game. There’s a big gap that needs to be closed here— I hope they can figure out how to do it.
*The run game looked amazing early. Chris Carson ran with conviction and determination— and the results were excellent. He had his way with the Vikings defense in the first half, amassing the lion’s share of his 80 yards on the ground during the first two quarters. But for the second straight week, the gameplay abandoned the run in the third and fourth periods. Everything about how Carson has handled his touches this year supports the contract extension they gave him, but they’ve got to figure out a way to keep him involved throughout.
*DK Metcalf had one of the best games of his career against the Vikings last year, a 6-catch, 93-yard, 2-TD performance that included his memorable game-winning catch on 4th & goal. He picked up right where he left off in this one, reeling in five of six first half targets for 88 yards and another score, but after that he kind of disappeared. Despite passing almost the entire second half, Metcalf received just three second half targets, only one of which was catchable— which he caught for 19 yards. He was nothing short of unguardable early but like every other part of Seattle’s offense, it was a dramatic drop-off after halftime.
Tyler Lockett was invisible today, outside of what momentarily looked like a scary injury. After being arguably the most productive receiver in the league through two weeks, he managed to record just four catches for 31 yards— almost none of which changed the win probability. If there’s been one criticism of Lockett with any merit, it’s his boom/bust performances and it’s impossible to call today anything but the latter.
*If you look past the lack of pressure, poor tackling, and terrible coverage, the Seahawks defense was pretty good today. The pass rush that hounded Carson Wentz for four quarters and Ryan Tannehill for two was nonexistent this afternoon. Might as well call them the Seattle Vaccines because they didn’t get anywhere near Kirk Cousins today.
Without knowing what the various assignments are, it’s difficult to pinpoint blame so I’ll just go ahead and apply it to everyone. Even when the Seahawks were giving up a billion points at the beginning of last season, I don’t remember receivers being this open or running backs having this much room. It has gotten so, so bad.
Kirk Cousins spent the entire afternoon in his easy chair, sipping coffee and petting his dog while waiting for his receivers to get open. And get open they did. I found myself more surprised when one of his passes wasn’t directed at someone with at least three yards of separation. There was absolutely no hope that Seattle would get a stop at any point in this game— instead I spent three hours hoping the Vikings would bail Seattle out with a stupid mistake that never came. Cousins finished 30/38 for 323 yards, 3 TDs, and no turnovers. Just target practice for him today.
I don’t know, guys. Good teams have slow starts all the time. Happened to the Bucs last year. The Chiefs are also 1-2. I’m not ready to bury this version of the Seahawks— not with 14 games left; but with the rest of the division looking as tough as they do, it seems like the distance to Super Bowl relevance is very long and very steep. Regardless, a major shift will be necessary in order for this team to exceed their good-not-great performances of the last half-decade.
Here’s hoping they pull it off.
This week I broke out the Ashton Symmetry Prism Corona cigar and much like today’s game, it didn’t quite live up to the hype. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good cigar and I am admittedly spoiled at this point. But this one just sort of blended in instead. And I had set aside a really cool bottle of Weller for this game too but honestly, I didn’t feel like cracking it after that game today. Instead I took the neck out of my 1.75-liter bottle of Makers and called it a day.
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