Monday, November 15, 2010

The Morning After: Seahawks Beat Cardinals, 36-18

Watching the Seahawks play on the road is something that I typically do on my own. My man-cave could easily hold more spectators, but entering has often has been like sticking your head into a lion's cage. The Seahawks have not exactly made a habit of playing well enough on the road to bring out my good side. I scream, I swear, I punch things, and unless you are equally insane, you would probably not describe the experience as "fun." Yesterday was different. I woke up relatively care-free. The devastation of the last two weeks had been so severe, so complete, that there did not appear to be much on the line heading into Sunday's game. Sure, this was a division game, and one the Seahawks could conceivably win, but to what end? The way I pictured a possible Seahawks victory was a low-scoring war of attrition. It would be the type of game that you left happier than you were at the start, but not exactly uplifting. Given these tepid expectations, I called an audible from my lone wolf game viewing plan, and made an off-hand Sunday morning invitation to one of my friends to come over if he wanted. This was a guy who is far more friend than fan. He enjoys watching a game now and then, but would be very uncomfortable with my typical game-day display. I was basically making an implicit commitment to behave. No big deal to most, but a symbol of my emotional distance heading into kickoff to be sure. All the way up to the Seahawks first 3rd down, that appeared to be a wise approach. Seattle was already trailing 7-0, had been jobbed on a bad call for Fitzgerald's first catch, and Matt had thrown what should have been a certain interception on 2nd down. Third and eight the past two weeks might as well have been third and fifty. As Matt lofted this 3rd down pass up the left sideline to a well-covered Mike Williams, I felt an unreasonable amount of hope. After all, this offense does not make plays like that and Williams has been dropping far easier balls lately. Williams exploded off the ground and thrust his bear paws directly into the path of the ball to make a catch very few receivers in Seahawks history could have made. The Cardinals defensive back, Toller, was lost and outmatched. Cardinal fans, at that moment, got to feel what it has been like to play against Larry Fitzgerald. Everyone who watched the first game between these teams and then saw that catch knew it meant Seattle was not going to a pushover in this game. Thirty-six points and nearly 500 yards of offense later, my friend had no idea how shocking the outcome was or how rare it was for me to be engaged in casual conversation. It was a fabulously odd day.

Any review of the game itself has to start with Matt Hasselbeck. The knee-jerk reaction is to compare it to his last Pro Bowl season in 2007, but this was nothing like 2007 Matt. This wasn't even like 2005 Matt. This was  more like 2002 Matt. Do you remember the last few games of 2002? Hasselbeck threw for over 400 yards twice, over 350 once, and right at 300 twice in the last six games. Koren Robinson finished with his career-high of 1240 yards receiving. Hasselbeck wasn't operating a ball control passing game in those games. He was tossing the rock all over the yard. It was more Steve Nash Phoenix Suns than John Stockton Utah Jazz. For reasons I have yet to grasp, we saw that again yesterday. Was it bad defense? Great play-calling? Probably...maybe...I don't really know. I can say it was a beautifully thrown game by #8. Assume for moment that it was bad defense and great play-calling and whatever else, Hasselbeck still put the ball right on receivers hands all day long. Watch the game again if you have a chance. Pay special attention to where each throw is hitting the receiver. Even Matt's under thrown ball to Obamanu was still far enough past the defenders to go for 50+ yards. There may not be a great statistical way to prove it, but it felt like Matt threw more deep balls yesterday than he ever has in a game. He ended up with 9.8 YPA, his highest since a 2005 game against Tennessee. Even in that game, there was only one pass longer than 23 yards. You probably have to go back to at least 2004 when Jerry Rice went nuts on MNF and Matt threw for over 400 yards and handful of passes over 30 yards to even be in the vicinity of what we saw yesterday. Four passes over 30 yards, three over 40, and one over 60 is enough to make any fan smile. It was the kind of game that has me thinking the Seahawks should be talking contract extension. If you have paid attention over the years, there is a mutual admiration between Matt and the Cardinals. Rumor has it they even made a strong effort to trade for him this off-season. If the Seahawks aren't careful, Matt could very easily be throwing to Larry Fitzgerald next season. Think about that before calling for Charlie Whitehurst anytime soon.

Whitehurst, by the way, acquitted himself well during his stint. Many will remember his terrible interception, which they should, but it was one of two incompletions during what should have been two scoring drives in two tries. He made some good throws. What we see in Whitehurst is a guy who needs a lot more experience and coaching. Matt used to make similarly bad throws when he was battling with Dilfer. Whitehurst throws off his back foot way too often, including during the pick yesterday. The problem with decision-making is that it is impossible to project whether the player will ever get better at it. That, more than anything else, is why the team cannot marry itself to Whitehurst as the future of the franchise. He can earn that spot, but it cannot be given to him.

Mike Williams was an inspiration yesterday. It will be fascinating to watch how he plays in New Orleans and beyond. This was his most dominant performance, and we can only hope he is ready to assert himself even more now. He has reached 10-11 catches and ~150 yards pretty darn quick. What's to say he couldn't get to 15 and 200+ as he, Matt and Jeremy Bates get better acquainted?

The offensive line was great, but it is hard to know how much of it was due to Darnell Dockett's absence. Regardless of reason, they were the reason that offensive display was possible. Chester Pitts may not be the upgrade we were hoping for at LG. He got owned a few times and had some costly penalties.

Defensively, Aaron Curry was a revelation. The team has been putting him on the interior of the line in passing situations recently, and it worked to the tune of two huge sacks yesterday. It is too early to say, but this may be just the latest example of how creative coaching is leading to maximum use of talent. And it could not come at a better time. Any spark of production from a new place is going to be key for a defense that has lost some cornerstones. Many talk about their replacements needing to step up, and of course, they do. What matters more is that new play-makers emerge, regardless of position. Curry always had the tools to be one, and he has never had a bigger impact on a game than yesterday.

I will need to watch the game more closely, but something was different about the team's alignments. Specifically, how Earl Thomas was used. We saw more of Thomas coming up to cover and support the short throws than we have all season long. It led to a team-high seven tackles and countless near interceptions. Thomas usually is a single-high safety, asked to cover the deep ball on either side of the field. He was not doing much of that against the Cards. It's worth keeping an eye on to see if the coaching staff is being clever again.

One of the biggest surprises that will likely fall off the radar was the lack of Cardinals rushing yards. There is no logical reason a team that rushed for over 100 yards in Qwest against a healthy 2nd-ranked rush defense should have been held to 41 yards on their home field against a shattered defensive line. Fourteen rushing attempts is inexcusable in a game where the outcome was in question for much of three quarters. Give the Seahawks credit for stuffing many of the Cards attempts, but this was more about bad play-calling than great rush defense.

The game yesterday was a rebirth. A team that shocked us all with their game-changing defense and special teams for six games, now has shown it may have an offense that can win games. This was the first time all year someone could make a credible case that the offense was the best unit on the field. With Russell Okung coming back next week, there is a chance we may finally see stability in the offensive line. Now we watch, and wait to see what from this performance can be sustained. Predicting the team's ceiling just got harder, and that's a very good thing. I will be happy to invite hope back into my man-cave, even if that means nobody else  is.

4 comments :

Nick Andron said...

Great post. A few comments:

The run defense was back to form with Mebane back in the mix and Balmer doing a pretty admirable job in Bryant's place. Siavii isn't exactly Colin Cole, and on a few plays he was dominated pretty thoroughly, but the line, on the whole, is hugely improved over past weeks.

The change in Earl Thomas' play had its positive effects, but the Hawks also allowed far more deep completions than I liked. Derek Anderson, a pretty bad QB, threw for well over 300 yards. Not good. The Seahawks will have to shore this up, and quickly, before it faces Drew Brees and a LOT of good receiving targets.

As for Hasselbeck, it was great to see him have a good game. Really. And this is coming from a guy firmly in the Whitehurst camp. Nothing against Hass, but he's not the future of the team, thus playing him doesn't make a ton of sense, other than for a 2010 playoff run. That was probably one of the better games he's had for years.

-Nick
Author of Seahawks Asylum
http://seahawksblog.wordpress.com

hawkblogger said...

Hey Nick,

Mebane's return was undoubtedly a major difference, but the Cards simply did not test the run defense often enough to say things are as improved as the stats indicated yesterday.

It's also hard to say if this is a new scheme in how Earl Thomas is being used, or a special approach to a Cards team lacking a viable QB. Carroll and Co may have decided to dare them to throw over top. Again, since this is a new beginning, we won't know if this is a pattern until we see more games.

If the Seahawks win the division and possibly win a home playoff game this year, I see no reason they can't do the same or better next year with Hass. I also see no reason Whitehurst would give them a better chance to win next year. The future of the QB position is in the draft this year, and that player will need at least a year of seasoning.

Jeff said...

Great game to watch, and great article to read.

Question for you...what do you think of the officiating in the league lately? Hawks fans especially know about bad calls (SB XL), but in the most recent game, that "horse collar" that Milloy got called on...? C'mon man, the ref was right there and he had a hand full of numbers. Luckily it wasn't a game changing call, but 15 yards for something as obvious as that is inexcusable....thoughts?

hawkblogger said...

I think the Hawks got some tough calls against them last week, but there were a few that were not called that could have been. There was a pass interference non-call against Jennings while guarding Fitzgerald on a key 3rd down. Good non-call, but often made anyway. The onsides kick was also *very* close. I thought our player touched it first.

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