Sometimes you can get blown out and win. The Oakland Raiders almost found this out on Sunday, but were possibly one very close onside kick away from pulling off the upset of the year in Seattle. Instead, the Seahawks dominated the Raiders in almost every facet of offense and defense but once again allowed penalties and special teams to nearly even the score.
(And then of course there are injuries, but I wouldn't necessarily say that they are "allowing" those. They're just dealing with them.)
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So what can Seattle do between now and January to make themselves the best team in the NFL again?
One big issue that could help clear up a lot, something that made things easier on both Russell Wilson and the defense last year, is special teams. This week we saw a blocked punt get returned for a touchdown, a missed field goal by Steven Hauschka, and Doug Baldwin field a punt inside the five and lose yardage. By DVOA, the Seahawks are now ranked 23rd in special teams, after they were fifth a year ago.
Despite Jon Ryan's ability and our love for him, and despite how we've felt about Ricardo Lockette as a gunner, Seattle is ranked 29th in punting and punt coverage. Oakland returned three punts for 52 yards. Last season the Seahawks were ranked fourth in punt coverage by DVOA and they allowed 21 returns for 82 yards.
That's 82 yards in an entire year compared to 52 against the Oakland Raiders.
It's a lot easier to point out what's wrong with the other things: Hauschka needs to not miss field goals, Ryan needs better protection, Seattle really misses Golden Tate on punt returns. But just generally, how do you do a better job of covering punts? That's something that special teams coach Brian Schneider needs to figure out.
Another big issue that would make things a lot easier for the Seahawks is scoring touchdowns instead of field goals. Seattle led 24-3 at halftime, a fact that escaped my memory almost immediately after the game was over due to the fact that they only won by six points, but it should have been an even bigger lead. They settled for a field goal after the Richard Sherman interception and then missed a settled-for field goal after catching a break on special teams, when the Raiders fumbled the kickoff return.
So instead of 24-3, it could have been something entirely ridiculous, like 35-3, and then Wilson doesn't even play much in the second half. This, of course, is somewhat on Wilson, who missed a couple open receivers, the weather, the offensive line, Luke Willson, Jermaine Kearse, and penalties. Did I mention this is on almost everyone except Marshawn Lynch?
Who, despite ending the game with 3.2 yards per carry, actually might have had the best game of his career? With two huge plays wiped out by inconsequential penalties, Lynch may have had ended with over 100 yards on both the ground and the air, with the "push TD" that'll certainly make it somewhere near the top of his career highlights video.
At the end of the day, we're left with a lot of blame to go around for the game being so close and a lot of praise to go around for it being almost a blowout. This team is perhaps a couple of injured players, some discipline, and a few missed opportunities from being the best in the NFL again. Will they get there over the next eight games? I don't know.
But they might. Don't blow this opportunity.
Seahawks vs Raiders Win Probability Chart (via Pro-Football-Reference)
Did you ever feel nervous during the game on Sunday? It's normal to think that maybe a Seattle team would find some weird way to blow it against the Raiders, which almost happened on a scary onside kick try, but the good thing about a win probability chart is that it doesn't factor in emotions. It plays the odds. And it also says, "Wait, no, the Raiders are not good at all."
The Seahawks built a lead at home that was almost insurmountable and then, in fact, it was not surmounted. No surmounting was done on this day.
Rad and Bad (chart via Advanced Football Analytics)
Marshawn Lynch - Rad
Lynch finished with 143 total yards and two touchdowns, but he could have easily set a career-high in total yards from scrimmage if it weren't for those penalties. Incidentally his career-high for total yards is 177, which he did with the Bills way back in 2008.
If either one of those plays could be reversed right now, Lynch would likely have had his biggest career game.
Jermaine Kearse - Bad
Kearse was targeted seven times and made just one catch for four yards. You can definitely say that it's not like all the balls were catchable, but there's an ongoing issue here. It's not just one game. Going back to Week 3, Kearse has caught only 12 of 26 targets, or 46.2%.
I think I suggested that Kearse was a fourth or fifth receiver at best in the offseason and people balked. Well, this is what a fourth receiver looks like. Pressed into action as a number two, Kearse does not provide the support and production of what a number two receiver is supposed to look like. He's not big enough or fast enough. He's much more like a smaller version of Devery Henderson, a player that you might get that one game-breaking play from but not a consistent, every down guy.
That's what Kevin Norwood could be one day, but not Kearse.
Bruce Irvin - Rad
According to ProFootballFocus, Irvin has been thrown towards once all year. That pass was intercepted and returned for a touchdown by Irvin on Sunday.
That's not even "Batting 1.000" that's "Batting 1.000 with a grandslam to beat the Raiders in the World Series" or something, IDK.
Last week, Irvin had two sacks and two hurries on Cam Newton, this week he had a crucial touchdown. He's getting all-day playing time and though there's still inconsistency there (I mean, two sacks in a row on an offense that was imploding at the end of the game and zero sacks or hurries or hits this week) Irvin is shaping up to be the kind of threat that could win a critical game for Seattle in December or the playoffs.
KJ Wright - Rad!
And amid everything with Bruuuuuce, we can't forget that KJjjjjjjj (doesn't work the same) was even better. He had 13 tackles, nine stops, and mostly shut down nine passes thrown his way. Carr was 4-of-9 for 31 yards when throwing at KJ.
Offensive Line - Bad!
The O-line drew six penalties and allowed Wilson to be hurried on 12 of his throws, while being hit twice. Russell Okung and Max Unger are supposed to return this week and even if they've been disappointing (sometimes) when healthy, wow they are needed.
Luke Willson - Bad!
Caught one of five targets with two drops. This one was obvious.
Richard Sherman - Really Rad!
Stat of the Week
Raiders said they wouldnt be afraid of Sherman. Derek Carr threw at Richard Sherman six times. He had a passer rating of 2.8 on those throws— kenneth arthur (@KennethArthuRS) November 5, 2014
Over the last 4 games, Richard Sherman allowing a passer rating of 43.1 on 20 attempts thrown his way.— kenneth arthur (@KennethArthuRS) November 5, 2014
DVOA Update (via Football Outsiders)
The Dolphins made a huge jump from 10 to 3, knocking Seattle down to fourth, after they dominated the Chargers 37-0. Miami has won their last three games by a combined score of 91-27, including two wins on the road. I'm not quite convinced that Ryan Tannehill is a good enough QB to carry them in the AFC playoffs if needed, but he does have a passer rating of 104.1 over the last five games.
According to FO, the Seahawks defense has faced the fifth-toughest schedule of offenses thus far, so it's still fair to say that they'll keep climbing as the onslaught of quarterbacks becomes more of just a regular slaught.
From Rodgers, Rivers and Manning to Carr, Alex Smith, and Manning. With a changeover like that, Seattle should see their 12th-ranked DVOA pass defense get back into the top five. Sherman said on Wednesday that Tharold Simon may be more advanced at his current stage than he himself was after a few games. Teams have not thrown at Simon a lot, and I hardly think it's because they fear him yet, but it does show that he's not losing his man and when they do target it him, it's usually thwarted. Save for a few penalties, Simon has been excellent.
So to consider that the Seahawks are the 12th-ranked pass defense when they've faced an incredibly tough slate of quarterbacks, and without Kam Chancellor for a spell and Byron Maxwell for a quarter-spell, it's not hard to imagine them playing like the top secondary in the NFL again by year's end.
Seattle is ranked 12th overall on offense, but that's basically on the strength of the number one rushing offense in the NFL. That's right, it's not DeMarco Murray and the Cowboys but Wilson, Lynch and the Seahawks that reign supreme on the run. Unfortunately that's balanced out with the 24th-ranked passing offense.
Right now it's really hurting Seattle they they lost to the 15th-ranked Cowboys, 17th-ranked Chargers, and 30th-ranked Rams. However, they beat the team ranked 1st and dominated the team ranked 5th, so it's not like they can't compete with anyone and could definitely still win the division or the number one seed.
Around the NFC West, the Cards jumped up to 16th overall from 18th, the 49ers remained at 20 and the Rams stayed steady at 30.
Week 10 opponent - New York Giants
DVOA: 23rd overall, 21st on offense, 18th on defense, 20th on special teams
The Giants really aren't good at anything. They have 11 interceptions but four of those came against Kirk Cousins and three were from Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Giants aren't good at anything.
In some ways, New York might be an easier opponent to beat than the Raiders, so again, the Seahawks should win this game easily. They've lost their last three games by a combined score of 45-98. They've placed Victor Cruz on IR and just lost their top corner, Prince Amukamara. They are also without Jon Beason, Walter Thurmond, and David Wilson.
It' possible that Wilson could be on the run again, as Jason Pierre-Paul and Robert Ayers are the biggest strengths for the Giants, but it's hard to see where else New York could get the better of Seattle. This team could conceivably end their season as one of the very worst teams in the NFL.
Russell Wilson stats update
The week: 17-of-35, 179 yards, 0 TD/0 INT, 63.9 rating, 5.11 Y/A, eight rushes for 31 yards
It's just one of those things where Wilson should have been credited with at least 250 yards, I think. A throw to Lynch was called back on a minor penalty from Paul Richardson, and a deep throw to Kearse could have netted another 30 or 40 yards but there was a pass interference; the throw itself was excellent. He also threaded the needle in a way rarely seen when he threw into triple coverage (Scary) but nailed Willson in the hands (Scarier, apparently, since he dropped it.)
Did Wilson play his best game? No. Did he play a good game? Honestly, I think his overall body of work was okay. DJ Hayden dropped two should-be interceptions and that's not something I'll ignore.
But Wilson was under duress a lot and right now his skill players look downright bad. He's still the most elusive QB in the NFL and does phenomenal things on the run. I don't think many QBs could be handling this situation as well as he is right now. He needs to improve, but he's always been way ahead of the curve.
The season: 152-of-242, 62.8%, 208.6 Y/G, 11 TD/3 INT, 6.9 Y/A, passer rating 93.1, 52 rushes for 393 yards, 7.6 Y/A, three touchdowns
These numbers are all way below expectations. Last week I wrote in this section that Wilson could make things look a whole lot sunnier with a big performance against one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL, but that obviously didn't happen. Well, here come the New York Giants at home and another golden opportunity to bump those stats.
At the midway point, Wilson is on pace for basically career-lows everywhere except in the running game. But "pace" almost never holds true and the reasons for this are super obvious.
Wilson faces all new opponents, and has five division games left out of the next eight. Things will change ... for better or worse.