Monday, December 6, 2010

The Morning After: Seahawks Beat Panthers, 31-14

It was 1st and 10 on the Carolina 39 yard line. The Seahawks had just gained 11 yards on a run around the left side. They dialed up another run, and this time, the play went for a whopping 18 yards but the running back was beaten badly on the play. Not by the Panthers defense, but by his own left tackle who was 20 yards further down field pancaking a poor Panthers lineman into the endzone. It was the single most dominant display from an offensive lineman I had ever seen. If a block could signal the end of a game, if it could be the blow that forced a team to tap out and submit, this was that block. The man who made that block was in Qwest again as the Seahawks faced the Panthers, and contributed to an almost identically scored victory. At the time Big Walt was honored with a retired jersey, the Seahawks trailed 14-0. The offense was facing a 3rd and 13 after the break in a half when first downs were as rare as healthy Seahawks receivers. What followed was a terrific conversion to Brandon Stokley and then a 36-yard thing of beauty to Cameron Morrah that was a little reminiscent of Jerramy Stevens touchdown catch five years ago. Thirty-one unanswered points later, the Seahawks had recaptured a little bit of the swagger that once oozed from their home field.

It was an odd game all around. The fans were booing the home team five minutes into the game. Then most of them left in droves after Marshawn Lynch scored his last TD to put the Seahawks ahead 31-14 with over 4 minutes left. Perhaps the fans are starting adopt the team's bipolar identity. The team clearly outperformed the fans today, even with a horrid first half. Hearing people question whether this team was any better than last year's has been infuriating. The defense has been mostly terrible the last six weeks, while the offense has started to show signs of growth. The defense was among the best in the NFL the first six weeks by almost any meaningful statistical measure, while the offense was close to the worst. Lawyer Milloy has said multiple times that the point where all three phases of the team (i.e., defense, offense, special teams) play well at the same time, the fans would see something great. For seven glorious minutes on Sunday, we saw a 96-yard touchdown drive from the offense, a pick-six from the defense, and an 84-yard punt return to setup another TD by the special teams. The Seahawks scored more points in that seven-minute span than they did in five full games this season. None of this is to say the Seahawks have now arrived and are destined for great things. The Chiefs or Saints would have won this game just as easily as they did the last two weeks. All it means is that this season still has meaning beyond determining draft positioning.

We did learn a few things yesterday, which is always fun. Cameron Morrah made a strong case that John Carlson is dead weight. His 39 and 26-yard receptions were arguably bigger impact plays than any Carlson has made this season. His 69 total yards receiving eclipsed Carlson's season high by eight yards. He is faster, gets more separation, and looks to be a tougher runner. His blocking was about average, maybe a shade below average for a player of his size. That also blows Carlson out of the water considering he may be the worst blocking tight end in the NFL. Before you wave your heads violently in defense of fan favorite Carlson, watch him block, really watch him. You will be embarrassed for your team. The Seahawks offense is better off with an extra receiver on the field for passing or Chris Baker blocking. Carlson's time in Seattle is coming to an end. The next learning was that this team can run the ball if given more than a dozen carries. It must have felt like an epiphany to Jeremy Bates when Marshawn Lynch converted each of his short yardage chances, "Oh, so if I just run our biggest back behind my best lineman on 3rd and 1, I can get a first down?!? Super fantastic!! That's so much easier than reverse flea-flicker fade patterns to covered receivers!" Yes, Jeremy, dialing up high-percentage plays have a way of working at...well...a higher percentage of the time. To give Bates at least one out, Michael Robinson's return at FB was helpful. If you don't believe that, watch the first touchdown Lynch scored. The Seahawks running game has fallen to worst in the NFL, and was the butt of many sports radio jokes this week. This isn't the 2005 Seahawks running the ball, but it's not the 2007 Seahawks either. Even when the rush totals have been bad, there have been productive runs mixed in. Bates must commit to it if there is any hope of balance. Everybody has forgotten that the guru line coach, Alex Gibbs, abandoned the team days before the season began. Add in the injuries and it's no wonder this part of the offense has struggled. Depending on the state of the WRs, the running game may be the best option. This offensive line has the chance of staying consistent for three straight games. The running backs are both healthy and eager. It is time to try and stand on that leg and see if it can hold the weight.

The last thing I walked away with is that Lofa Tatupu is really done. Many of my Twitter followers gleefully taunted me after his great interception for a TD, "What do you think of Tatupu now!?" Regrettably, my opinion changed little. Tatupu had two good plays, both in coverage, on Sunday compared to well over a dozen plays where he was completely dominated. Watch him against the run. People that cling to the thought that he is a future starter for us, and maybe even one that could return to the Pro Bowl are not watching him or are just blocking out what they are seeing with memories of what was. Tatupu is spending a ton of time on his back. His reacting to running plays instead of reading them. The injured line in front of him makes a big difference, but not this big. Tatupu was not making many memorable plays before the Oakland game, and has made just one after. I get no pleasure from this assertion, as Lofa was a foundational part of the 2005 run, but he now is in the dangerous category of past performance overshadowing current production. Many teams will wait too long before replacing a warrior like that. The Seahawks can still do worse than Tatupu, but it is time for them to start looking for someone who can do much better.

Colin Cole is expected back this week against the 49ers. Most are just thankful to have him back in the middle of the line next to Brandon Mebane. What many may not realize is that the team only had two natural defensive tackles with Cole and Red Bryant out. When Cole comes back, don't be surprised to see Junior Siavii slide over to Bryant's defensive end spot. That would give the Seahawks the three DT look they thrived on the first six weeks. Siavii is not Bryant, but he's also more active and stout then Kentwan Balmer. That change could make for a noticeable up-tick in run defense. When you have the worst run defense in the league for six weeks, an up-tick may not be enough to matter, or it may be the ingredient that stabilizes a unit gasping for air. Keep an eye out for who gets snaps at left end once Cole gets back.

Give the coaches and the players credit for picking themselves up off the coroner's table and keeping their season alive. What they did speaks volumes about them as people, but still says little about the viability of the team. The Rams with Stephen Jackson and Sam Bradford and a good defense are still a better team than Seattle right now. They will win that final game of the season unless the Seahawks become a better team by that time. There are reasons to think that is possible, but it is far from certain. The consolation prize of missing the playoffs would be a top-12 pick, so the franchise wins either way. Anyone that watched the first half and second half of yesterday's game knows that a win in hand is worth two in the draft.

3 comments :

Jeff said...

Glad you wrote a piece today..i was missing my weekly HB fix. Anyways, good game (2nd half at least). It was very nice to see the ground game get going. This has to build confidence for the RB's and also the front line. However, i'm curious to know if you think this is a ground unit that is beginning to find it's identity, or do you think it is the result of playing the worst ranked team in the league?

hawkblogger said...

Yeah, sorry it's been slow going on the blog. Job has been bonkers and this P90X things requires over an hour a day!!

The Panthers are a bad run defense, but the Chiefs actually allow more per carry. Understand that yards rushing against pile up when you are playing from behind all year. This was the first time in a long time the Seahawks had at least 20 rushing attempts. That was the biggest difference, not the Panthers. Having said that, we're not going to be successful running against high quality run defenses yet.

SF allows only 3.6 YPC, so that's a stiff test. Should be interesting, but maybe their DT Franklin will be out! :)

Jeff said...

P90x is no joke. Good luck!

Hopefully the hawks come to play against the 9ers....looks like Alex will get the start!