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Cigar Thoughts, Game 5: Seahawks engage in heavy petting, unable to consummate with endzone

The Seattle Seahawks came up scoreless on three red zone drives in the second half, losing a heartbreaker to the Cincinnati Bengals 17-13.

Syndication: The Enquirer Phil Didion/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

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Fresh off a bye, healthier than they’ve been all season, and riding a three-game win streak; the vibes were high for the Seattle Seahawks coming into this game against the Cincinnati Bengals. A win today and they’d kick down the doors between them and the conversation about legit contenders in the NFL and the way the game started, that seemed like a real possibility.

Seattle received the opening kick and their offense immediately settled into a familiar rhythm. Geno Smith hit Tyler Lockett for 10 to move the chains from the jump before alternating Ken Walker runs and quick completions. The ball moved down the field with patient efficiency, with Walker toting it five times for 28 yards and Smith completing his first four passes for 36— including an impressive connection with Jaxon Smith-Njigba on 3rd & 4. They managed to get all the way inside the five and, after a pass interference call drawn by Lockett at the goal line, punched it in with Walker from a yard out to take the early lead. It was such a crisp drive, so completely on schedule, that I got roped into thinking that’s how the day was gonna go.

Jacson, you buffoon. You irredeemable moron. The Bengals kept the offense-forward feeling going, setting the stage for a seemingly inevitable shootout with a 13-play, 69-yard drive of their own. On that possession, and the one following it to be honest, Joe Burrow looked every bit the superstar that fans of his have been waiting all season to see. He peppered Ja’Marr chase with targets, supplementing them with dump-offs to literally every other eligible receiver on the roster. It didn’t matter what Seattle tried to do on defense, and Burrow capped that first drive with an eight-yard dart to Tyler Boyd that tied the game.

After the Seahawks went three-and-out with their next opportunity, Cincinnati kept it going with another surgical possession. Burrow leaned even more heavily on Chase, hitting him with some short routes and going over the top to Ja’Marr for 31. Tee Higgins got involved on this drive, and Joe Mixon was busy as well, as the Seattle defense looked just a hair too slow, too reactive. This possession only took seven plays but the result was the same, with Burrow hitting Andrei Iosivas for his first career TD and Cincinnati was up 14-7 in a blink.

Seattle recaptured some momentum on the next drive, using a quick pass to Zach Charbonnet and overcoming DK Metcalf’s weekly idiotic penalty by hitting Lockett for 32 on a double-move up the right sideline. It looked like the Seahawks were gonna punch right back but consecutive penalties and a sack killed the drill and led to another punt.

It was then that the defense locked in, and proceeded to play their asses off the rest of the way. Riq Woolen and Devon Witherspoon each broke up a pass and a great open field tackle by Bobby Wagner help Seattle get their first of an absolute litany of defensive stops.

Despite being down seven and looking pretty uneven, there was no panic with Pete Carroll. After a four-yard completion to Will Dissly, Smith handed it to Walker on a counter for 21 yards on a run featuring the cutback ability that makes Walker such a tantalizing talent. Two plays later, Smith navigated a collapsing pocket to hit Metcalf for 12 yards on 3rd down and move the fellas into field goal range. The drive stalled there, as the Bengals pass rush steadily increased in consistency and intensity, and Jason Meyers hammered a 55-yard field goal with less than a minute to play in the first half.

There was enough time for Cinci to mount one last attack but the Seahawks defense wasn’t having It, and Jamal Adams put an end to the first half with a sensational open field tackle on Drew Sample and Seattle headed to the locker room down 14-10.

The Bengals began the second half with the ball and the Seahawks leaned into their strengths by committing two penalties on the first play of the third quarter. The accepted one was pass interference against Tre Brown, but he atoned for his sins two snaps later. After a short Mixon run, Burrow dropped back and dialed up his favorite receiver down the right sideline, looking for a huge play. On this one though, Brown was velcroed to Chase and got his head around in time to pluck the pass out of the air for a massive turnover.

The interception put Seattle in position to retake the lead and after a slick catch by Metcalf for 18, it looked like that might be the case. On that play, DK used his hard body and soft hands to shield the defender and make the catch before spinning upfield for the first down. Then Smith hit Jake Bobo over the middle for 23 yards and the ‘Hawks were cooking once again.

The positive vibrations would come to a startling stop shortly thereafter, however, as Shane Waldron drew up a play designed to get Smith-Njigba his first NFL score. I don’t hate the play call— an isolated arrow route to JSN towards the front right corner of the endzone— but I do hate the way Geno just stared it down the whole way. The Bengals recognized what was happening almost immediately and rolled a second defender over to the rookie, but that didn’t stop Smith from locking in and letting it rip. His telegraphed pass was easily picked off at the 4-yard line and a crucial scoring opportunity turned to ash. Just an absolutely atrocious interception from Geno, but only his second of the year.

Seattle’s defense was up for it though, and they snuffed out the next Cincinnati possession with back-to-back sacks. The first came at the hands of Jarran Reed, who continues to play out of his mind in this new defense, and the second was courtesy of Dre’Mont Jones knifing through the line to slam Burrow to the turf. After years of soft, bendish-but-don’t-breakish defense, it’s been awesome to watch this unit come up with explosive plays over the last month.

The ensuing punt saw DeeJay Dallas weave through the coverage team en route to a 23-yard return that put Seattle just outside of scoring range. Walker would gain 8 yards with an athletic one-handed grab before getting four more on a decisive run in traffic to move the sticks. It put Seattle in field goal range and was followed by a savage Jake Bobo catch, which saw the plucky honky elevate for a high pass, snag it, and then eat a brutal helmet-to-helmet hit. The contact drew a flag but Bobo popped up grinning like a fiend and the Seahawks were in serious business at the Bengals’ 11.

Once again Seattle had an opportunity to take the lead but once again, they came up short. Walker ran twice for no yards, setting up 3rd & 10 and letting the Bengals tuck their wings to dive-bomb Geno. With everyone knowing a pass was imminent, Smith barely had time to hit the top of his drop before he was besieged and his desperate throw to Lockett was easily batted away. Myers came out and banged home a chippie to make it 14-13 but the weight of uncashed checks was starting to be felt in a major way.

I don’t know about you, but I expected the Bengals offense to get back on track at some point. For as well as the Seattle defense had been playing, it just seemed like there was too much talent on the other side of the ball; and yet, the Seattle D kept on it. Witherspoon made consecutive tackles in the flat to force a 3rd & short for Cincinnati and the home team decided to put it in Mixon’s hands. The Bengals RB took the handoff and leaped for the first down but he was met low by Reed and high by Jordyn Brooks to stifle yet another possession putting the ball back in Seattle’s hands after a punt.

It. Didn’t. Matter. The Seahawks OL was no match for the Bengals DL and Geno was knocked decidedly off his rhythm as a result. Most of the pressure came from the right side and despite one great throw to Smith-Njigba for 18 on a crosser, the pressure was too much. After that completion, Geno was forced to scramble back to the line of scrimmage and on the next snap, disaster struck again. It was only 2nd & 10, but when Smith dropped back, he just looked jittery. After hopping around, he finally set his feet and threw over the middle towards Metcalf but the pass wasn’t anywhere close and was easily picked off. The commentary surmised that maybe DK gave up on the route by not breaking inside but even if that’s true, the defender had inside leverage and likely would’ve picked it off anyway. It was as rattled as I’ve seen Geno all season and given the relentlessness of the opposing pass rush, I kinda get it.

The interception return put Cincinnati deep in Seattle territory and in range for a back-breaking touchdown but somehow, the Seahawks defense did it again. Woolen blanketed Chase for an incompletion on 1st down then Witherspoon did the same on second down, breaking up the pass in perfect coverage. Burrow’s 3rd down toss was behind Irv Smith and they had to settle for a field goal despite taking over on Seattle’s 24. 17-13 Cincinnati with roughly 12 minutes to play.

The Seahawks benefitted from an extremely dubious roughing the pass call on the first play of their next possession but couldn’t do shit after that and they punted it back to their opponents. It was yet another wasted chance and it put the pressure back on Seattle’s defense. I don’t know what’s gotten into the Seahawks defenders lately but they came through again, getting a sack from Boye Mafe and a huge tackle for loss by Adams to force the Bengals to kick it away again. I mean, something had to give eventually, right?

No. The answer to that is no. Not that the Seahawks didn’t make it exciting. Seattle got the ball back on their own 36 and Walker advanced it to the 40 on 1st down. Following that, Smith fell back and launched a ball up the left sideline that Metcalf coasted under for 30 yards. But the street turned to mud inside the redzone once again and the Seahawks spent the next eight plays spinning their wheels.

The Bengals, who run a fun assortment of switching coverages, knew that Seattle was gonna struggle with a compressed field and flooded the defensive front with extra defenders. Their gamble paid off in the form of a bunch of nowhere plays and with the clock dissipating— just over two minutes left, a field goal didn’t seem like an option. The Seahawks ground their way to a first down with a Metcalf catch to set up 1st & goal from the 7 but Smith was sacked for a 12-yard loss on the next play and not even a 13-yard completion to JSN could save them. A desperate incompletion was followed by a 4th down sack that was comically fast. Seattle left the possession with zero points and were one first down allowed from a loss.

What we saw from the defense today was incredible and they dug in for one more stop. The one thing Seattle‘s offense did right near the goal line was run the 4th down play on the positive side of the two-minute warning, effectively giving them an extra timeout in addition to the two they had remaining. As a result, the Bengals took their chances with a pass on 1st down but Burrow overshot Chase on a deep ball and after Brooks and Wagner combined to stuff Mixon on 2nd down, the Bengals were put to a decision on 3rd & long.

Head coach Zac Taylor decided to let it ride on his franchise QB’s arm instead of burning the Seahawks’ last TO with a run and Burrow stepped back with a chance to end it. His intended target on this one was Higgins, but he was absolutely smothered by Brown and not even the receiver’s push-off was enough to create necessary space for a completion. Tre batted it away— a huge play in a huge moment for Brown and it gave the Seahawks offense one last chance to go win this game.

And, just like all the other drives in the second half, it looked like they might. Smith hit Colby Parkinson for eight then, after an offsides penalty, found Lockett up the seam for the biggest play of the day: 36 yards. That put the ‘Hawks back at Cinci’s 11 but Smith’s next pass was inexplicably thrown towards Parkinson in triple-coverage and was nearly picked off. Then— and I don’t know if this was just intended to slow down the Bengals’ pass rush or what— they ran the ball up the middle on 2nd down. Walker only got two, which gave the Seahawks two chances from the 9-yard line to try and steal a victory.

On 3rd down, Geno was harangued immediately and was wrapped up as he tried unsuccessfully to throw it to Metcalf. That put the full weight of the game’s outcome on 4th & goal but the play hardly had a chance to get started before the pocket collapsed and Smith was forced to fling the football futilly towards the endzone. The problem with getting hammered by two defenders at the same time is that it makes it really tough to throw a ball and the pass never had a chance. It clattered to the turf and the Bengals had themselves a weird 17-13 win.


~The Cincinnati Bengals run some chaotic coverages and you could see Geno Smith struggle to sift through them for the majority of this game. That’s been a consistent issue for QBs against Cincinnati and it was made worse by the thunderous pressure Smith faced all game long. He wasn’t good today and I won’t pretend that he was, but it was a very difficult set of circumstances.

That being said, he failed to target a wide open Metcalf on a couple of potential deep balls early and both of his interceptions were pretty ugly. One of the things that’s impressed me about Smith since he became the starter is how hard it’s been to rattle him but he looked real rattled after the opening drive today. He finished the game 27/41 for 323 yards, which isn’t bad on the surface, but the two picks and zero TDs brought his passer rating to a woebegone 69.5 and a rough QBR of 42.3.

He’s better than he looked today, and the O-line didn’t do him any favors, but that’s now three games out of five that have been less than impressive this year. I still think most of that is circumstantial, because his good games have been real good, but it would be nice to see him string together some performances that are more in line with the elevated expectations of him.

~Ken Walker looked awesome on the first drive, netting 28 yards and a TD but he wasn’t able to do a whole lot after that. He finished with 62 yards on 19 carries, never finding any sort of room to show off his explosiveness, but was able to add 27 yards on three catches through the air. He’s been the complete package this season and was arguably Seattle’s most productive offensive player, but it just wasn’t enough. I’m not gonna penalize a guy for not hitting some huge run because they’re rare no matter how good you are, but today would’ve been a great time for one.

~Zach Charbonnet’s influence in this game was muted, as he saw just four touches. In a tight game where yards were at a premium, the team leaned on Walker, leaving little available for the rookie. He turned his two carries into five yards and his two catches into 14. It was fine.

~It was an odd day for DK Metcalf, who early on looked like he might have one of those head-case games we all hoped were behind him. He didn’t have a catch until late in the second quarter but in the meantime, managed to pick up a personal foul and look absolutely outraged when Geno didn’t see him on a couple of big play opportunities. But then he got real involved, finishing with four catches for 69 yards, including two huge ones late while playing through significant rib discomfort. 69 yards is a nice outing, but it took him 10 targets to do it which is not the sort of production you’re looking for from that many opportunities. Smith, when targeting Metcalf this season, has been one of the most efficient passers in the NFL but that was not the case today, as the two of them never seemed to find the same wavelength. They’ll be fine moving forward but they needed to be better today.

~Tyler Lockett, on the other hand, was quite productive with his targets, turning his eight into six catches for 94 yards including the big 36-yarder on the final drive. He had a couple looks in the endzone but both were spoiled by the opposing pass rush so he stayed scoreless for the day.

~Jaxon Smith-Njigba was the most involved we’ve seen yet this season, has he set career highs in both catches and yards with four and 48 respectively. It was the first time we’ve really seen him involved at the second and third levels, which is an encouraging sign moving forward. I obviously haven’t had a chance to see all of his routes yet but it looked like they were a lot more diverse than anything we saw in the first four games.

~Seattle’s reliance on backup offensive linemen finally bit them in the taint. It was ugly in Week 1 against the Rams but that was an unexpected development in the middle of battle. Then, against the Lions, Stone Forsythe and Jake Curhan balled out. They remained solid against the Panthers but Curhan needed a lot of help in New York. Still, they had cobbled together a pretty impressive stretch, especially with injuries to both guards as well.

They got Charles Cross back this morning and while he clearly wasn’t playing to his full potential, I thought he was alright. It was the other side that did the team in today. I am deeply respectful of how intertwined the game of football is— so much so that I am loathe to place the blame for any loss at the feet of one player. That said, Jake Curhan got absolutely obliterated for the entire second half today.

I didn’t love the play-calling and as I mentioned earlier, Geno could definitely have been better, but it’s really tough to score when pressure from the right side is getting home in two seconds on nearly every play. I know Curhan was playing with pain so I do want to acknowledge that, but it’s hard for me to imagine the Seahawks losing this game if Abe Lucas was healthy.

~As good as the defense was against the Giants two weeks ago, this performance was almost on par. Yes, they gave up touchdowns on the first two drives and at one point allowed 15 consecutive completions but the way they played over the final three quarters— with basically zero margin for error— was insane against an offense like this one.

For the fifth straight game they were excellent against the run, allowing just 46 yards on 15 carries and they sucked all the air out of the football through the air after the initial two drives. Burrow completed just nine of his final 20 passes for less than 70 yards, which is honestly insane.

The coverage was fearless, the tackling was solid, and— perhaps most importantly— they weren’t caught out of position. They wore some punches early on. but adjusted and hit back even harder down the stretch. The defense 100% played well enough to win this game and it’s a shame they couldn’t get one more touchdown from the offense with all those chances.

~I think a lot of today’s success had to do with the return of Jamal Adams, but it’s symbiotic with just how good the coverage of Seattle’s three corners were. Riq Woolen got beat a couple times early but was stickier than tar in the second half and Devon Witherspoon continues to perform like a star, breaking up another three passes. Meanwhile, Tre Brown came back from injury to have maybe the best game of his career, including the two biggest plays from the defense all day. All of that allowed Adams to fly around without being bothered by silly things like pass coverage and he responded with two crucial drive-ending tackles. Having his feistiness on the field matters a lot.

~The defensive front continues to make noise, coming into this game leading the NFL in pressures per game. They weren’t as destructive today as they were in their last outing but they harassed the hell out of Joe Burrow and added to their quickly-expanding sack total with QB takedowns from Jarran Reed, Dre’Mont Jones, and Boye Mafe. The way the pass rush is working hand-in-glove with the coverage is exciting to see and they’ve done all that without sacrificing what has become elite run defense. This is a very exciting development.

~Seattle was better on 3rd downs this afternoon than they’ve been most of the season, converting five of 12 and only allowing three conversions on 11 Cincinnati attempts. It was the penalties that killed them though, as they continue to be one of the least disciplined teams in the league in that aspect. Seven more fouls against them in this one, with at least two more that were declined. That shit has to get cleaned up.

All losses sting and this one was no different. Either you get blown out and feel terrible or barely lose and... feel terrible. But a loss like today’s game doesn’t have to be a killer. It is, like any other result, a data point that can be examined and learned from. The Bengals identified a weakness in Seattle’s offense and committed significant resources towards exploiting it. It paid off today but it doesn’t mean that they discovered some blueprint for beating the Seahawks. Also, you can’t score three points in your final four redzone possessions and expect to win, but Seattle’s been brutally efficient in that regard this season and it’s a near certainty that this will look like an outlier at season’s end.

Seattle will adjust, just as they did after the Rams game and the impending return of Abe Lucas should shore up the team’s most glaring vulnerability. Mostly though, we’ve seen enough success from the parts of the game that struggled today to have reasons for optimism moving forward. Add to that the fact that Seattle’s defense has been one of the best in the league over the last month and every single one of this team’s goals remain in play.

All that being said, the mountain got a little steeper today and the Seahawks will have to be better moving forward if they’re gonna make the type of noise they expect to. Next up is a home game against the tiny-beaked Cardinals with a chance get the needle back in the groove. I expect we’ll see a better version of this team seven days from now but until then, onwards and upwards my friends.

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