The road monkey on the Seahawks back had gotten so big, the team had become nothing more than chimp cock ring. The indignity of the team's road performances cannot be overstated. That is what makes Sunday's performance that much sweeter. Seattle, meet your new Seahawks. They are the guys galloping around on the backs of monkeys, spanking some tail and yelling, "giddy-up!"
Nobody should promise, or expect, this team to dominate the way they did this weekend, but no longer should the fan base expect the worse. If you don't see it yet, you are not looking hard enough. This is a team on the rise. It is the most complete team in the division, and may be developing into the most fearsome Seahawks defense since Jim Johnson had Chad Brown terrorizing opponents in the late 90s. The Seahawks are now tied for 6th overall in sacks (with surprising St. Louis), and that's with an early bye week putting them a game behind the other leaders. At 3.4 sacks/game, the Seahawks defense is essentially tied for second in the NFL in rushing the passer. Gus Bradley has them blitzing from every angle and with every player. The one game they chose to drop into coverage (@Denver) was their worst defensive performance.
We witnessed a new defensive scheme on Sunday that featured three safetys, adding Kam Chancellor to Lawyer Milloy and Earl Thomas. According to Danny O'Neil, the new wrinkle is called "bandit." The extra safety is used as a coverage linebacker would be, and allows other defensive backs to enter the backfield as blitzers. Many of those Roy Lewis, Jordan Babineaux, Lawyer Milloy blitzes were still backed up by four players in coverage. This could be a revelation. Aaron Curry is not the most skilled blitzer. The defensive ends, outside of Chris Clemons, are not intimidating pass rushers. Seattle's best pass rushers may be some of their defensive backs like Lawyer Milloy and Roy Lewis. The Seahawks know this and have been blitzing Milloy a lot this season, but that has left the team with one coverage safety and linebackers like Will Herring in coverage. Opposing quarterbacks have put up big passing yards against that alignment. The bandit defense allows Carroll and Bradley to get better pass rush and coverage personnel on the field. Chancellor offers more than Herring. Lewis can do more than Curry in passing situations, either by blitzing or covering a receiver. It is called maximizing your talent. It is also called great coaching. Add bandit to an already brilliant base defense that is second in the NFL at stuffing the run, and Seahawks fans will have as hard a time staying in their seats as opponents will staying in their cleats.
Chester Taylor's 24-yard scamper on a late 4th and 1 was the first 20+ yard run against the Seahawks this season, and skewed an otherwise dominant performance against the run. Chicago managed a paltry 37 yards on the 13 carries (2.9 YPC) outside of Taylor's. This was a team that rushed for 218 yards and a 5.2 average last week. Ask Matt Forte what it is like to run against Seattle. He went from 166 yards and a 7.5 average against Carolina to 8 carries for 11 yards. Take your whoopin' like a man!
Mike Martz deserves at least a little credit for the Seahawks defensive performance. One would think that an opposing offensive coordinator would start to counter a defense's blitz pressure with screen passes and running plays like draws. The Bears also happen to have one of the best receiving running backs in the NFL. They ran three screen plays, all of which resulted in a first down and gains of more than 10 yards. I do not recall a single draw play. There were not even many quick passes. Martz is known for asking his quarterback to hold onto the ball for deeper pass routes, but his play-calling on Sunday was inexcusable. Ego is a killer, Mike, and your quarterbacks may claim you are too.
There were some individual performances on the defense that deserve recognition they might not get elsewhere. Raheem Brock is handful at defensive end. He is making plays against the run and the pass, and has mostly relieved Aaron Curry of his line duties. Red Bryant was a major factor again. Do yourself a favor and watch the safety again when Babs nails Cutler, but watch Bryant. He gets double-teamed and is one of three lineman just bull rushing. As Babs is obliterating Cutler, Bryant is pummeling this poor Bears lineman who ends up flat on his back. Many of the running plays from the Bears ran into a large pile of bodies Bryant created. He is like a boulder in a raging river. Walter Thurmond continues to struggle in coverage, although he made a great play to break up a late 3rd down pass that Kelly Jennings could never make. Colin Cole and Kentwan Balmer did a great job in the middle without Brandon Mebane.
Trading Deion Branch may have the same positive impact on the Seahawks passing game that acquiring Marshawn Lynch will have on the running game. Mike Williams is my favorite Seahawk at the moment. I have been touting him as a potential Pro Bowler since the pre-season, and that finally sounded a little more sane after 10 catches for 123 yards. Branch was on the field more than any other Seahawks receiver the first four games. His absence looks to have finally forced Jeremy Bates into featuring Williams. Deon Butler shined Sunday as a sharp route runner and made a nice TD catch, but Williams is the guy who can cause defenses to adjust their coverages. Look for Williams to eclipse 150 yards in a game at least once this season, and be acknowledged as the second-best receiver in the division by season's end.
Lynch's greatest contribution was convincing Bates to run the ball (season-high 31 times), and run it in the red zone (two rushing TDs). The combination of Lynch and Forsett looks like peanut butter and chocolate. The exciting part is that should be Lynch's worst game this season. That is a formidable Bears defense, especially against the run, and the offensive line should get better. Speaking of the line, they get my vote for most surprising performance. Everything started with them. Williams doesn't make his catches, Forsett doesn't get his yards, Hasselbeck doesn't go interception-free without their contribution. Of all the fear factors Seattle faced heading into this game, the one that seemed the hardest to avoid was keeping Bears pass rushers like Julius Peppers off of Matt. It was nothing less than shocking to see zero sacks and one QB hit. Russell Okung had me thinking of Ray Rhodes all afternoon. Rhodes once said this about the great Walter Jones:
"When Walter goes up against the majority of the guys in the league, it’s like you put the guy in a paper bag and carry him around and hold him up for game day and whip his butt and put him back in there."Okung did that to Peppers in his first full game as a pro. This is arguably the best defensive end in the league, and Okung just whupped him on his home turf. It wasn't just pass protection either. Okung mauled people in the running game. Just ask Brian Urlacher what it felt like to "participate" in the Forsett touchdown run as Okung decided just blocking Urlacher wasn't enough. Many fans find it hard to get excited about an offensive lineman, but be excited. Be very excited about Russell Okung.
A few other individuals on offense deserve some attention. John Carlson continues to be a disappointment as a receiver. Don't be surprised if Anthony McCoy starts getting more reps and magically disappears from the weekly inactive list. Carlson did have his best blocking game and made the big catch of the onsides kick, but his routes and drops were inexcusable. Sean Locklear played his best game in over a year, as did Chris Spencer. On a running play I will breakdown later, Spencer, Hamilton and Locklear did fantastic work sealing their assignments, and they did it multiple times. Matt got away with some poor decisions again, but played his best game thus far.
Jon Ryan and the coverage teams deserve praise despite the disastrous late-game punt return for a TD. Until that point, Ryan was punting the equivalent of a perfect game.
Season's are not won or lost on single games, but are built steadily as each week passes. This week makes it possible to envision the team going beyond establishing a foundation. If they build on it in the next two weeks, aspirations will start gaining altitude. If they don't, they will need to get back to patching the foundation. Every demon cannot be exorcised in one week, but the Seahawks heads won't be spinning quite as much after this victory.