Monday, October 29, 2018

Back in Business-- Seahawks 28 @ Lions 14

I've grown rather fond of the mid-season bye week over the years.  Seattle had been dealt some early byes the last few years and I've blamed those premature sabbaticals for late season attrition. Perhaps unfairly, but it was a scapegoat nevertheless.

This time around, I had my concerns. Will this break kill the momentum this team has going? Not only are they getting their break after winning 3 of the last 4 games, they'll be coming off a road trip to London and reembarking on another trip to Motor City-- where the Seahawks first Super Bowl dreams had died.

Turns out it was business as usual.

Russell Wilson had a perfect game, slinging 3 touchdowns and no interceptions with a perfect QBR.  Honestly, he should have had a fourth touchdown, but Doug Baldwin forgot how to drag his feet and Nick Vannett got called for going out of bounds, but I never saw it.

Chris Carson beat up Matt Patricia's defense, gashing them for 105 yards rushing and a touchdown.  Paired with Mike Davis and a little sprinkling of rushes from Wilson and Tyler Lockett, Seattle has become one of the best ground threats in the NFL.

It's not just the mauling run game that's coming together-- the Seahawks pass catching group is really emerging.  Ed Dickson had his coming out party, snatching two balls, his first one for a Seahawks touchdown. David Moore posted a 4-97-1 line as his star continues to rise.  Wilson's trust in his receiver group is visibly improving with every game.

Tyler Lockett is swiftly becoming a superstar.  There were a lot of us that were concerned when he
signed his extension that he was being paid to be a type of player he had never been before.  An explosive returner and occasional playmaker ordinarily wouldn't be a priority resigning, especially with a disgruntled Earl Thomas campaigning for a new deal and guys like Frank Clark and Justin Coleman that are free agents at the end of this season.  The coaches saw what Tyler could be and decided to bet on that with his new contract-- and he's done nothing but live up to and exceed expectations.

Don't look now, but Seattle's defense is one of the league's finest.  No Kam, no Earl, no Sherm, no Avril, no Maxwell, no Sheldon-- no problem.  Seattle's defense is 4th in scoring and is gaining experience with every week. Far from the potential liability we expected this group to be, they were a big reason this team has won 4 of it's last 5, covering up for the offense's slow start.

With all of the great things that came out of yesterday's victory, perhaps none was more cool than seeing our rookie punter go rogue and get his first rushing first down.

Late in the game, the Seahawks found themselves pinned back against their endzone.  There was just over 2 minutes left to play. From what I understand, Michael Dickson was told to try to run the clock down to the two minute warning, taking a safety if necessary.  A safety would've resulted in the Lions getting only two points and then receiving a punt from Seattle that would be kicked from the 20 yard-line.

Even with the safety, the Lions would've found themselves still down by two scores, but with only a single timeout and no two minute warning. It would've been the safest bet to ensure the road victory.

In a post-game interview, Dickson recalled something Coach Carroll had said to him while in London.  He asked the Aussie "When are you gonna run one?" 

Dickson said at the time, he thought the comment was made in jest.  It must have permeated into his subconscious, because as you'll see in the clip below, Dickson saw some daylight and he went for it.  A ballsy play that could've been disastrous, but instead sealed the game for Seattle.

Next week brings on a whole new set of challenges as the Seahawks prepare for their former divisional foes, the San Diego Los Angeles Chargers.  The good news for the Seahawks-- six of their final nine games are at home.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Well Traveled-- Seahawks 27 Raiders 3

To borrow a colloquial phrase-- Seattle's trip to England was a jolly good show.

Despite the long flight to a strange land, Seattle seemed to roll their momentum amassed in their near-miss loss to the Rams into England as they embarrassed their former division rivals in a blowout victory.

The Seahawks continue their week to week improvement in a way not previously seen with Pete Carroll's teams.  Whereas in previous seasons, where it seemed Russell Wilson would find a new way each week to break the heart of their opponents, this team tends to build upon the same foundation with new wrinkles mixed in.

Continuing to build upon their run game, this week saw the long-awaited debut of first round draft

Seattle's young defense continued to shine.  Frank Clark had a dominant performance, notching 2.5 sacks.  Clark was a near constant menace to Oakland all game having struggled with food poisoning the week before.

Jarran Reed continues to develop into the destructive force that we haven't had since Brandon Mebane's departure. Reed came away with another sack in this game and was stout in facing former teammate Marshawn Lynch.
selection, Rashaad Penny.  It was by no means an MVP performance, but while Carson lead the backfield in touches, Penny came away with the highest average, netting 4.8 yards per carry.

Our team has now fought their way back to a .500 record and is poised to continue it's ascent in an NFC that is wide open beyond the Saints and, unfortunately, our division rivals in LA. The Rams squeaked out another 3 point victory against Denver yesterday.

As things wrap up in London, Seattle will prepare for it's bye week before returning to action in Detroit against the Lions. Hopefully, KJ Wright is ready for return and Ed Dixon should be returning soon.  Seattle will be helped tremendously by getting back some of the players they lost earlier in the year.

Another thing I may write more in depth on is Russell Wilson quietly playing his way into the MVP discussion.  Wilson left Wembley Stadium having tossed another 3-touchdown performance.  With David Moore emerging, Doug Baldwin returning from injury, Tyler Lockett stepping up and Dixon soon to join the fold-- he's only going to gain more confidence in his receivers.

If the run game keeps up and the defense continues to mature, we all know what Wilson is capable of doing.  If he puts up the numbers he usually does in November and December, it's going to be awfully hard ignoring him in the MVP discussion.

Same goes for coach.  If this team makes the playoffs, even as a Wild Card, how can you not credit Pete with his first coach of the year nod?

Monday, October 8, 2018

Everything but the Win-- Seahawks 31 Rams 33

So close.

For the better part of 60 minutes, the Seattle Seahawks played the style of football you would hope to see every time you tune in.  Hard-nosed, smash-mouth, run-right-at them and take-calculated-shots-downfield type of football.  They overcame adversity, they forced turnovers, and they even had the good fortune of seeing their opponent miss an extra point.

Everything was going as best as could be expected, but the Seahawks could not close out the victory.

With just under 6 minutes left in the game, the Seahawks found themselves at their own 22 yard line, down just two points.  They had timeouts in their pocket and enough time remaining to continue pounding the rock while giving Russell Wilson the opportunity to do what he does best-- win a game with the last possession.

The Seahawks began by giving the ball to Carson for a mere 2 yards.  No problem.  Now the clock is
moving.  On the next play, Wilson creates a little magic and finds Tyler Lockett for a 44 yard gain.  This one is almost in the books.

Then, Seattle began to choke.

The play doesn't get in on time.  Germain Ifedi is called for a false start that may as well have been a delay of game penalty. Again, no big deal.  Plenty of time.  Still in field goal range.  Don't stray from the gameplan.

Give the ball to Mike Davis.  Only two yards.  Don't panic.  Still in range and the clock is moving. The Rams have no timeouts left.

Next play, a give to Mike Davis for a modest gain of 5 yards.  Only, it isn't.  The play is called back on a bullshit holding penalty against DJ Fluker.  Shit, now we're out of field goal range.  Still, not to worry, a high-percentage pass will put you right back in Sebastian Janikowski's range even if it's short of a first down.

Hell, another modest run might suffice for the strong-legged Janikowski.

3rd and Long, Wilson incomplete to Lockett.  Now, you've got to punt.

You still have two timeouts and the two minute warning.  You might not have the formidable defense we've all grown accustomed to over the years, but you do have one of the most exciting, prolific young punters in the game.  Pin 'em back and force another punt.  You'll still have Russell with the ball in his hand and around 60 seconds to get back into Janikowski's range.

Michael Dickson, who had struggled earlier in the game, punted the ball a measly 24 yards to the Rams 21 yard line.  Not ideal, but a few stops could keep you alive.

First play of the next drive, Todd Gurley breaks a run of 12 yards.  Seahawks don't call a time out.  The probability of the Seahawks winning is drastically reduced. I would've stopped the clock here to refocus the defense, use the two minute warning as my second time out and still have one timeout left.

The next play is a two yard run, the clock runs down to two minutes. On the subsequent play, Gurley carries for 7 yards, just shy of the first down marker.  Seattle takes a timeout.  They have one remaining.

3rd & 1, Rams give to their MVP for no gain.  It's now 4th & 1 with the Rams on their own 42.  The offense hasn't left the field, but the punting unit is queued up nearby.  They take a measurement-- they're short.  The Rams ask for another measurement, no doubt to buy themselves more time to make the 4th down play call.  I have no idea why this was granted.  I can't recall ever seeing that before.  Nevertheless, the spot was measured again and once again, came up short.

Seattle then called it's final timeout.  Foolish decision.  You can argue that they wanted to give Wilson as much time as possible, but the benefit of the extra 40 seconds could not have benefited Wilson more than it did Rams coach Sean McVay and their offense.

McVay decided to keep the offense on the field.  Jared Goff kept the ball on a quarterback sneak and picked up the 6 inches that ultimately sealed Seattle's fate.

An otherwise well executed gameplan and outstanding physical performance was swept away and the Seahawks fell to 2-3 on the season, all but assuring the team will be, at best, fighting for a Wild Card spot.

There were a myriad of takeaways that should leave us all optimistic for the future of this team, but the reality is, they needed that home victory against perhaps the league's most complete team.  They had it and they blew it. 

The team should get it's first international victory next weekend when they take on a miserable Oakland team in London on Sunday.  Despite the loss yesterday, the Seahawks did seem to find their identity in that game.  If they can play like that in every game for the rest of the season, it's hard to imagine this team missing the playoffs again this year, even if it is as a Wild Card entry.

But today-- it's a hard pill to swallow.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

The Turf Monster of Glendale-- Seahawks 20 @ Cardinals 17

Perhaps it was closer than it needed to be, but the Seahawks managed to escape the desert with a victory. Glendale's football stadium, formerly University of Phoenix, now State Farm, has been cursed for the Seahawks.  That's where the repeat Super Bowl hopes were dashed.  That's where the team finished in a 6-all tie.  That's where Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman played their last snaps in a Seahawks uniform.

Now, it appears Earl Thomas has played his final down for Seattle.  Another victim claimed by the turf monster of Glendale.

The Seahawks also lost their promising young tight end, Will Dissly, to a season ending knee injury.  As devastating as that injury was, unlike Thomas, Dissly will be a fixture in Seattle for years to come.

The Seahawks defense should have had an easy go of things facing off against rookie quarterback Josh Rosen in his first career start, but that wasn't exactly the case.

Rosen looked relatively sharp and certainly unsphased by the gravity of the situation. If not for just about everyone around him imploding, the rookie might have pulled off his first win.  That would have crushed the confidence of the Seahawks going forward, but multiple drops and fumbles by the Cardinals offense kept Seattle in it.

Despite Chris Carson's last minute scratch from the lineup, Seattle had great success with their rushing attack, largely in part of Mike Davis' 101 yards and two touchdowns. 

I was shocked to see the vitriol on twitter for Seahawks Offensive Coordinator, Brian Schottenheimer.  Not necessarily the fact that it exists, but the sheer volume of it.  I saw several people sincerely calling for Schotty to be fired in season.

Look, every time a new coordinator is brought in to a team with a new system, you can expect there to be some time before everything gels.  Not only is the coordinator and scheme new, but the offensive line coach is new and the personnel is vastly different. 

The confusing thing to me is that we're actually seeing improvement already through these first few games.  Back to back 100 yard running backs isn't something we've seen in recent history when Bevell was at the helm. 

For years, Seahawks fans begrudgingly granted Bevell's offenses the leniency of not getting their shit together until the latter half of the season.  Every season seemed to take Seattle several games before we saw the team gel and produce.  Why are we not granting this same courtesy? Sure, we've seen some struggles, but can't those be chalked up to growing pains?  We shouldn't punish the struggles while overlooking the progress that is being made.

I would be remiss to not talk about Earl Thomas having potentially played his last game in an historic career in Seattle. I'm sure someday I'll write a lengthy piece on everything Thomas has meant to this franchise and our city-- but I'm not ready to do that today.

This saga did not need to end as ugly as it had.  Teams grow, suffer setbacks, change, and turnover all the time.  It's the nature of the business.  Seattle was extremely fortunate to assemble a roster so rich with talent that the only thing that could stop it was Father Time and the salary cap. 

Earl Thomas was the first draft pick of the Pete Caroll era. He was the youngest of the Legion of Boom. I think breaking his leg when colliding with Kam Chancellor terrified him.  After all, he hadn't ever suffered such a devastating injury in his life before that. He even tweeted in the immediate aftermath of that injury that he might never play football again.  That showed just how scared he was.

He healed up and responded remarkably to that injury. He had another great season. Still, he saw long-time teammates leave in messy divorces with the team.  He saw dear friends and colleagues Chancellor and Cliff Avril forced out of the game they love as results of devastating injuries brought on by the same reckless playing style that Earl employs.

With all of the change surrounding him and the harsh reminders of his own mortality, Earl Thomas was understandably scared. Still only 29 years of age, this is uncharted territory for him.  At his age, he has to understand he's on the back nine of his playing days. Realizing that so much in life is out of your own control, Earl wanted to control the one thing he still could-- his availability to the team without a contract extension.

Holding out for a better deal almost never works for players, but it's literally the only thing they can do to force a team's hand. I understand why it happens, but in cases like Earl and Pittsburgh's LeVeon Bell, at a certain point you have to accept things as they are and keep playing.  Few things in this world are as fleeting and finite as NFL playing careers.

I heard from a reliable source, but admittedly haven't seen factual evidence supporting the claim, that Thomas ignored the team doctor's recommendation of having a rod put in his leg to strengthen it the first time it broke.  Apparently, this new break was in the very same spot.

Whether you're mad at Earl for giving the finger on his way out the door or you're mad at the team for not paying him the money he deserves, this whole situation sucks.  This, like all of the other recent breakups is going to stain the legacy this group created in their short time here.  

In time, it will pass.  Even the most disgruntled players won't be able to deny that their best performances came while they were Seattle Seahawks.  10-15 years from now, this team will reunite in various forms to be celebrated for what they accomplished together.

I wish the best for Earl Thomas and hope he continues his career at a very high level.  More than anything, I want Seattle to power ahead and try to recapture that lighting in a bottle.