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Cigar Thoughts, Game 6: Big beaks > tiny beaks

The Seahawks defense suffocated the Cardinals en route to a 20-10 victory, moving to 4-2 on the season

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

***As most of you know, Cigar Thoughts is now a podcast. One of the perks of the pod is getting these articles in audio form, in addition to our sit-downs with our amazing guests. You can listen to all the shows, including this article, right here:

Here’s the thing: the Seattle Seahawks are a good football team. One of the biggest challenges to being a sports fan is not holding your favorite team to an impossible standard, forgetting how hard wins are at the apex level of professional sports. I say this because there was so much negativity circling this team following a close loss in Cincinnati; it’s a reminder, especially in a week that saw the two best teams in football lose to backup QBs, that nothing should be taken for granted and that one week’s result should not be solely informative of decisions moving forward.

The Seahawks had an opportunity to get right against a 1-5 Arizona Cardinals team today and while it may not have been pretty, they handled their business. And one of the beautiful things about the NFL is that at the end of the season, every win spends the same. Seattle handled the absence of arguably their best offensive player, the negative energy following a loss, and the questions that come with it to lock in a chokehold in the first quarter and spend the rest of the game squeezing until the Cardinals tapped out. 4-2.

The Seahawks won the opening toss and immediately made things more difficult for themselves when Jason Myers booted the kickoff out of bounds. The hope was that the Seahawks defense, which has been objectively elite for a month, would simply snuff out the plucky Cardinals offense but quarterback Josh Dobbs scrambled for a first down on the opening possession. And honestly— that’s almost as good as it would get. Jamal Adams made two great tackles on the next series and Quandre Diggs blew up a 3rd down pass forcing a punt.

The Seahawks returned the favor on their first drive, but not before Jake Bobo, who has an uncanny ability to make whoever is guarding him slower, snagged an impressive 32-yard catch. Unfortunately, the Seahawks gave up a sack off the right side (what’s new?), and sacks are the ultimate drive-killers. Michael Dickson kicked it away and the game remained scoreless— but only briefly.

The Seahawks defense suffocated Arizona on their second possession, a theme that would hold true throughout this contest and they gave the ball back to their offense after a three and out. The biggest bummer of this game was something the Seahawks haven’t had to deal with in five years— the absence of DK Metcalf— so they made the most with what they had.

In that spirit, they got a big Ken Walker run on their second drive, as he uncorked one of his video-game jukes to the outside to the right for Seattle’s first chunk play of the game. Two plays later, Geno Smith faked a handoff to Walker, led the safety to the wrong spot with his eyes, and dotted up Jaxon Smith-Njigba for a 28-yard score— the first of the rookie wunderkind’s career. Mark my words, by season’s end, the JSN pick will look like a no-brainer. 7-0 Seattle.

It’s going to take all of the restraint I can muster not to say this regarding every Cardinals drive but the Seahawks defense spent the entire game with a plastic bag held over Arizona’s head and they were unrelenting in their willingness to tighten it around their opponent’s neck. They forced another three-and-out with Devon Witherspoon breaking up the 3rd down pass by snaking his hand in front of Michael Wilson at the sticks. That necessitated a second Cardinals punt which would normally be great but Deejay Dallas coughed up the return— Seattle’s first lost fumble of the year, and the Cards were finally dealt a winning hand. Not that they’d capitalize, because Bobby Wagner stopped consecutive runs and Julian Love knocked the ball away on a 3rd down pass, that forced the Cardinals to settle for a field goal. 7-3.

There was a little promise to the Seahawks’ next drive, especially after Smith-Njigba converted a 3rd & 6 on a (gasp) bubble screen, but the drive stalled and Dickson, the NFL’s best punter, had to kick it away.

The Cardinals responded with their best drive of the game, splicing darting runs with quick-hitting passes to get into scoring range but Seattle’s defense came up big once again— at least momentarily. On 2nd & 10, Dobbs dropped back and saw the pocket collapse in front of him. Instead of succumbing to the sack, he heaved a desperation throw to the endzone that Witherspoon picked off for what should have been the biggest play of the game to date. It was a massive, win-probability-swinging play from a kid who has incredibly taken over the mantle of a suddenly resurgent defense. Instead, it was waived off by a— and I can’t stress this enough— bullshit roughing the passer penalty against Boye Mafe.

It was an objectively terrible call as Mafe, in an attempt to bat the pass down, hit Dobbs on the shoulder pad and maybe the helmet, but the ref decided that there was illegal contact to the head and neck area. I’m all for protecting the QB but that was got damn ridiculous. After the play, there was a classic donnybrook during which a Cardinals player struck an official and by the time the dust cleared it was 1st & goal from the 25. It was an absolute catastrophe and frankly, the NFL should be ashamed, but I guess that’s the sport we’re watching now.

Not that it mattered, Dobbs kept it on the next play and broke two tackles en route to a 25-yard touchdown run to make it 10-7 Arizona. Setting the officiating catastrophe aside, there were multiple defensive breakdowns on that run— first, Darrell Taylor lost contain on the read-option then Riq Woolen failed to wrap up on his tackle attempt, deflecting Dobbs into Quandre Diggs who bounced off him allowing the ‘Zona quarterback to sail into the endzone. Should’ve been a pick. Infuriating but sadly, my anger is not factored into the final score.

I know it’s trendy to hate on the Seahawks offense because they haven’t been quite as prolific as last year’s group but here’s the thing— relative to the rest of the NFL, which outside of Miami has been completely watered down— the Seahawks offense has been even better than last year’s surprising performance. They came into this game 8th in raw scoring and 5th in scoring when adjusting for pace. Still, it takes touchdowns to win in this league and Seattle did exactly that. Smith-Njigba snagged a 3rd down conversion on a scalpel-sharp comeback route and three plays later, Tyler Lockett did the same. That set the stage for what was probably the second-best play of the Seahawks season— just below Witherspoon’s pick-six on Monday night.

On this play, Geno dropped back and lofted a prayer to heaven, launching a pass to the back right corner of the endzone towards fan favorite Jake Bobo. Here’s the thing: Jake Bobo is fucking awesome. Some of the discourse surrounding him is a little ridiculous but there’s no doubting that he constantly seems to come through when called upon. This play was no different, as Bobo was perfectly covered but it just didn’t matter.

Whoever said white boys can’t jump never saw Bobo play, and he elevated against a stage-5 clinger to snag the spiral with one hand, corralling it and dragging his feet in the paint for the score. The refs ruled it incomplete but if there was one theme from this game, it was the extreme fallibility of the officiating. Pete Carroll challenged the ruling and was vindicated, as, in a super rarity for super slo-mo, an incompletion was overruled and the Seahawks took the lead for the final time at 14-10.

It’s hard to overstate how good Bobo’s catch was— an elite combination of hand-eye coordination and overall proprioception to drag his toes while pinning the pass to his body. I’m not ready to call him an objectively good NFL wide receiver because in my mind, that is defined by earning targets but Bobo is weakening the argument against him with every opportunity he capitalizes on.

Arizona mounted an impressive drive on their next possession, getting into scoring position but Boye Mafe told them to suck his nuts, wrapping Dobbs up for a loss and forcing a punt to give the hosts the lead heading into the break.

The Seahawks got the ball to start the third quarter and after a couple of effective Walker runs, Geno scrambled to convert a 3rd & short. That was nice but then he hit Colby Parkinson for 37 up the right sideline for Seattle’s biggest play of the game. As if that wasn’t enough, Smith uncorked what might be his best throw of the season on the next snap, threading three defenders over the middle to hit Noah Fant for 25. Then, completely feeling himself, Geno bailed out of a collapsing pocket and went airborne at the 4, landing on his goddamn neck for the first down inside the 1. It was maybe the best sequence we’ve seen from Smith since the overtime drive against the Lions.

Sadly, the redzone calamities from last week gave this game the ol’ reacharound. Walker got stuffed twice on unimaginative runs and then a slip route to Parkinson was perfectly covered, with the gigantic tight end getting knocked out of bounds at the line of scrimmage. Carroll wussed out and settled for the field goal to make it 17-10. Maddening. How about one shred of creativity, Shane?

Arizona would gain nine yards on the first two plays of their next drive but Jordyn Brooks wrapped up Dobbs for a loss on a 3rd & 1 keeper to give the ball back to the offense and the stage was set for a comfortable fourth win of the season. BUT— it wouldn’t be Pete Carroll football if the Seahawks just played high-stack poker the rest of the way. You gotta make the people sweat— gotta keep them in it to the final snap, after all. It’s just better television that way.

The ensuing punt led to a big Dallas return, spinning out of the initial wave of coverage to set Seattle up in plus territory and wipe some of the stain of his previous fumble away. Seattle followed that up with a couple of first downs to get back inside the redzone but apparently we can’t have nice things. On 3rd & goal, Geno, for the second straight week, saw something that wasn’t real and threw a lay-up pick to keep the drama high. If you’ve been following this article and podcast, you know that I’m a believer in Smith but that’s consecutive weeks with absolutely terrible decision-making in the highest-leverage area of the field. Certainty would be delayed further.

Still, Seattle had a touchdown lead and the defense continued to play like their lives were on the line. They forced another punt, giving the offense an additional chance to ice things, but Geno fumbled a snap on 3rd & short and Arizona fell on it. The turnover, Seattle’s third of the game after only doing so three times all season coming in, put the Cardinals in position to tie the game but the Seahawks defense went ballistic once again. I just don’t know where they find the resolve but I am so fucking grateful for it. A huge tackle for loss from Mafe on 2nd down forced a 3rd & impossible and when Matt Prater yanked his field goal attempt wide left, it was all but academic.

The Seahawks pushed the ball downfield far enough to kick a game-clinching field goal with a few minutes left and by the time their defense turned in their sixth consecutive scoreless possession, Seattle was downing out a 20-10 win.


~Geno Smith was excellent on 90% of his plays today but his bad plays were really bad. Look, I absolutely think Smith is the guy to lead this team but today wasn’t the game to silence the haters, as crazy as I think they may be. He completed 75% of his 24 passes for 219 yards and two touchdowns but his two turnovers were bad enough to smudge the shine off an otherwise good performance.

Here’s the thing— he was good enough to win this game and at the end of the day, that’s the job of an NFL quarterback. But he wasn’t good enough to establish himself as one of the best QBs in the league and as well as the rest of this team is playing, he’ll need to be better if this team is to push themselves into the stratosphere of the real contenders in this league. A win is a win, and I’m not gonna penalize Smith too much for today, but while the way he played today was good enough to beat the Cardinals, it’s unlikely it was sufficient to beat the really great teams in this league.

~Ken Walker is a really fucking good running back. I’m not sure he ever had a run where the line gave him a window for a big gain but he still churned out 111 yards on 28 touches and remains one of the most productive running backs in the NFL. With no Zach Charbonnet to spell him, and very few effective drives in front of him, he remained steadfast in his conviction and followed his blocks for whatever yards were there to gain. He popped once, for the 25-yard scamper off the right end, but he eschewed the big losses that plagued him last year and keeps himself in the conversation for best tailbacks in the NFL this season.

~The discourse surrounding DK Metcalf has been absolutely insane this week and if you find yourself on the anti- side of the conversation then I frankly don’t know what to tell you. If you want to spend your time watching the most productive first five years of any receiver in franchise history being mad about stuff then I suppose that’s your prerogative. You’re also allowed to think Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia is bad. This was the first game of Metcalf’s career where he was inactive but I’m hoping it’s a long-term benefit. DK sustained a significant rib injury in Week 2 and has been gritting it out ever since, the hip injury that he played through last game caught up to him this week and given that he’s literally been the most durable player on the roster since he was drafted, perhaps this was a blessing—especially with the win. With the bye week behind him, this might be the last chance Metcalf had to recover with a brutal three-month stretch facing the team.

~With Metcalf out, Jaxon Smith-Njigba took advantage. He was Seattle’s best receiver today, finally delivering on the promise his draft capital portended. I have been steadfast in my assertion that we’ll look back on this selection as one of the best draft picks in recent memory but it was nice to see it in real time. Seattle only threw the ball 24 times in this game but he earned a team-high seven targets, turning them into a team-leading four catches for a team-leading 63 yards and his first touchdown. If you’ve been worried about JSN, don’t be.

~There has been so much noise around Metcalf and him not living up to his prodigious promise but somehow Tyler Lockett has skated on all that. Today should have been his chance to establish himself as the guy in this offense but what we got from him this afternoon was the same good-not-great performance we’ve seen from him all season. He’s been second-fiddle to Metcalf all year and he stayed in the understudy position in this game as well, even with DK’s target share freed up. He was thrown at five times, catching four of them, but doing so for only 38 yards. If you’re unhappy with Metcalf’s performance, you need to ask yourself why you’re okay with Lockett’s, who is averaging just four catches for 47 yards per game this year.

~Jake Bobo might just be football Jesus. Thrust into a near-every-down roll today, he caught four of his five targets for 61 yards and the most impressive receiving touchdown of the season. And he did all of that while blocking his honky ass off, further cementing his place as one of the favorite role players this team has had in recent memory. What a solid security blanket he is proving to be.

~It’s time to start talking about this defense as one of the best in the NFL. The first two weeks were a bit rough, and the Panthers game in Week 3 had both highs and lows. But since then, the Seahawks D has yet to allow 300 yards in a game, which is fucking insane, and are only giving up 10 points per game despite numerous possessions starting in their own territory.

We haven’t seen this from this team in over half a decade, and I don’t think any part of it is a fluke. Seattle is winning at all three levels and they did so again today, notching four sacks, breaking up eight passes, and allowing a paltry 249 yards of total offense. They played against a stacked deck, with three turnovers putting their opponents in great position multiple times. Even so, they held the Cardinals to just four yards per play. That’s elite, and at this point, it’s not an outlier.

~Devon Witherspoon played a Hall of Game game today. The box score says four tackles and one pass broken up but it doesn’t reflect the endzone INT and a sack that were both waived off by weak penalties. I don’t know what’s different about Witherspoon’s molecules but they seem to move through the world in a way that no one else’s do.

I don’t think the Seahawks have ever had a cornerback that hits like Witherspoon. It doesn’t matter what sort of play it is, where it is on the field, or what the attack angle is— every time he hits someone the dude goes airborne. It defies physics. I almost feel bad spilling so much ink in admiration of this rookie but he continues to be the tone-setter for a defense that’s playing as well as anyone over the last few weeks— which is an incredible thing to say about a first-year player.

~Welcome back Jamal Adams, man. I know it’s not his first game back but the impact he has on this defense is palpable. Quandre Diggs said after the game that Adams is one of the best defensive players in the NFL if not the best defensive player in the league. And while that might sound like hyperbole, I dare you to set your preconceived notions aside and just watch the dude play.

~Bobby Wagner and Jordyn Brooks are back on their bullshit. Nine tackles each, and they both spent the entire afternoon sucking the oxygen out of the Cardinals offense. They were everywhere they were supposed to be and a bunch of places they weren’t. The vision behind this defensive plan is becoming clearer and these two linebackers are the lenses through which we can see it.

~This pass rush, which has spent the last half-decade sucking on a binkie, has been showing some serious teeth the last few games. Jarran Reed, Darrell Taylor, Boye Mafe, and Jordyn Brooks combined for four sacks and the defense as a whole notched six tackles for loss. Add an incredible eight passes broken up and you have the definition of a complete defensive performance.

I mean, this unit only gave up 10 points today and even those were somewhat fraudulent. The field goal came after a turnover deep in their own territory and the touchdown came on the heels of a bogus roughing the passer penalty that eliminated an interception. Even the missed field goal followed a fumbled snap and came after a three and out. This unit is balling.

~The Seahawks, despite their offensive prowess relative to the league, have been very bad on third downs. On both sides of the ball. That changed today, as they converted seven of 13 3rd down opportunities and held the Cardinals to just five of 15. If they keep doing that shit, look out.

~The turnovers were bad today. Seattle had been so good in this regard through their first four games but five turnovers in the last two , plus three failed 4th downs, makes things a lot tougher than they need to be. The defense has been up to the task so far but you can’t count on that over the course of an NFL season. Geno needs to sharpen up and the defense needs to get back to taking more than the offense is giving.

The Seattle Seahawks are 4-2, tied for the fourth best record in the NFC. I know last week was frustrating but this is a good team and their record reflects it. The vision behind the roster moves of the last two years are coming into focus and this team is ready to fuck some shit up. Sure, they played a bad team today and sure, they left some opportunities on the field, but wins in the NFL are difficult and you’ll never catch me quibbling over any of them.

The Seahawks handled their business today and the bow of their ship found Polaris again. Next up is the throwback uni game against the impressive Cleveland Browns, with a chance to go to 5-2 and re-establish themselves among the true contenders in this league. Time will tell how that shakes out but in the meantime, things are looking good. Onward and upward my friends.

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