Monday, September 26, 2011

The Morning After: Seahawks Win 13-10, Against Cardinals

Today is a tough day to be a Cardinals fan. They added Kevin Kolb in the off-season, signed Larry Fitzgerald to a $120M+ contract, and had shown a propensity for the big play through the first two weeks of the season. The Seahawks had been so weak on offense that other 0-2 teams tried their best to distance themselves, "We may be 0-2, but it is not like we are the Seahawks." Seattle's offensive line had given up 10 sacks, and only cleared the way for 58 rushing yards from running backs. It is hard to imagine a better opportunity to come in and win a game in Seattle. And yet, the Cardinals still lost. They have faced Cam Newton, Rex Grossman and Tarvaris Jackson through three weeks and are 1-2. Ouch.

The Seahawks players may have been able to puff out their chests a bit after the victory, but Paul Allen may have the real bragging rights. His $8M quarterback and $41M receiver looked like the deal of the century next to Arizona's $60M quarterback (who also cost a 2nd round pick and a Pro Bowl cornerback) and $120M receiver. Sidney Rice went for 109 yards without breaking a sweat. His receptions were mostly of the repeatable variety. There were a lot of 8-12 yard plays to go along with his two "big" plays of 23 and 32 yards. It was a game that left you feeling he could challenge 200 yards if the offensive line could protect a seven-step drop and allow Rice the chance at real big plays.

Jackson had his worst quarterback rating of the season in the team's best offensive game. The offense went for a season-high 261 yards, roughly 100 yards more than last week against Pittsburgh. How many yards did Rice have again? While Kevin Kolb has 17 career interceptions to 16 career touchdowns after throwing two more yesterday, Jackson still has more touchdowns than interceptions in his career (26 to 24). Jackson's only two interceptions this season have come on Hail Mary passes. None of these facts mean any general manager in the league would pick Jackson over Kolb, but they do raise more questions about the cost of each player.

Seattle's offense was last in the league in a number of categories, but explosive plays was one of the best indicators of how toothless the offense has been. The Seahawks had only one play over 20 yards through two games (Doug Baldwin's 55-yard touchdown catch @ SF). They had five of those plays against Arizona. Rice had his two, Baldwin had another, and both Marshawn Lynch and Leon Washington had runs over 20 yards. That was the best indicator of progress for an offense that still has a long ways to go. Tom Cable said he felt like the running game was "close, maybe a couple weeks away." Lynch more than double his season-high in rushing yards with 73, and the team had a healthy 4.1 yards per carry. The much-maligned offensive line opened some holes and did a much better job protecting the quarterback. Statistics will show four more sacks and 12 total QB hits. What they won't show is how much more often there tight ends and receivers went out into pass patterns instead of staying back to pass block. It is worth watching more carefully on tape, but James Carpenter appeared to have his best game. This is a season in which victory is redefined by player development progress instead of scores, and there were wins all over the field on Sunday by that definition.

Kam Chancellor continued a spectacular start to his career with more big plays, including one of the best hits of the short season on his block of Todd Heap. His late interception sealed the victory. Not bad for a guy who is supposed to be a liability against the pass. Brandon Browner played a fantastic game, as did his opposite corner, Marcus Trufant. Browner got an early illegal contact penalty that nullified an interception, but it was that same physical style of play that ran Larry Fitzgerald off a number of routes throughout the game. Fitzgerald beat Browner for two receptions. One, was a pinpoint pass from Kolb where Fitzgerald was a step beyond Browner along the sideline. The other was a desperation heave from Kolb that Fitzgerald snatched for a touchdown. Browner needs to do a better job of finding the ball in the air on plays like that. He played Fitzgerald tough enough through the rest of the game that the Cardinals started lining Fitzgerald up against Trufant exclusively later in the game. That didn't work either, as the receiver went without a catch in the second half. The television cameras will not show it, but Browner had Fitzgerald blanketed several times down-field on plays where Kolb was eyeing him, and instead had to take a sack or move to a different option. Browner frustrated Braylon Edwards in week one and Fitzgerald in week three. Even with a bad game against Mike Wallace in week two, that's a pretty darn good start.

The Seahawks defense played a nice game. Chris Clemons has been a beast against the run this year, defying his position's reputation as a pass-rush specialist. He added a sack and had a total of three tackles for loss. He forced Kolb into another sack by Leroy Hill. The pass rush is still a long way from being effective. The interior lineman are not collapsing the pocket, and it is becoming clear that is an area the team will have to address in the coming off-season. K.J. Wright got the majority of snaps at the SAM position in place of Aaron Curry, and played a nice game holding his gaps. He was not credited with a tackle, but his assignment-discipline was part of how the defense continued to be stout against the run. Walter Thurmond appears close to being all the way back. He played a nice game.

There may not be many victories this season, so it is worth savoring each and every one. Stepping back and looking at the big picture should widen that smile a bit more as a number of young Seahawks made important strides while a division rival saw a fair number of critical players step backward. 

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