Monday, October 24, 2011

The Morning After: Seahawks Lose To Browns, 6-3

Years of following the Seahawks, Mariners and Trail Blazers have made caused a Darwinian mutation in my psyche. Some fans pick teams to follow that are consistent winners. This choice allows them to enter every contest with swagger. I, on the other hand, have learned the art of lowered expectations. You can not rip out my soul if I was anticipating your loss. It gives me the illusion of control needed to carry on despite wave after wave of negative results. This coping mechanism applies to players, as well as to teams. Heading into Sunday's game versus the Browns, I had what I thought were very modest expectations of Charlie Whitehurst. After all, I am on record as saying he will never develop into a starting caliber quarterback and that the team should move on from him. I thought a passer rating in the 60s or 70s was reasonable, and should be enough to beat a truly bad Browns team. His play against the Giants gave me enough evidence to suggest he might even exceed those expectations. That's the game, you see. Imagine a poor outcome, and then set your hopes a notch or two below that. It's so much harder to be disappointed when you are expecting so little. A perverted congratulations must be given to Whitehurst who managed to play so badly that he practically tunneled miles beneath my ground-floor expectations of what he would do. He beat my system. I raise my finger to you.

Apparently, I wasn't alone. I asked folks on Twitter to fill in this sentence,

Charlie Whitehurst was so bad, ________________
Here are some of my favorites:

Charlie Whitehurst was so bad, that Jesus went to the trouble of resurrecting to cut his hair and shave his beard to end comparisons
Charlie Whitehurst was so bad, he made the officials look like they had a good day...
Charlie Whitehurst was so bad, I want to punch a baby
Charlie Whitehurst was so bad, I ALMOST turned it to the Teblow game
Charlie Whitehurst was so bad, I opted to watch Dora the Explorer instead
Charlie Whitehurst was so bad, the folks at Webster's are busy working on new words to describe him
Charlie Whitehurst was so bad, the Seahawks should have called Dan McGwire at halftime

The shame of all this is that Whitehurst does not deserve all the anger and frustration. He's a man who is trying to do his job, and failing publicly. The real frustration comes from a sense that he simply didn't compete in this game. He didn't compete when his reputation and career was on the line. He played his worst game on a day when even a bad game would have won it. Did he take his four days off for the bye week? I don't know, but something about him gives me the impression that he did. Tarvaris Jackson scratches and claws to get back in the lineup knowing full well that half the fan base doesn't even support him. He dusts himself off without a harsh word after getting sacked time and again. He leads. He improves. And yet, he is subject to constant talk of quarterback controversies. Enough. The only controversy at quarterback in 2011 for the Seahawks is whether Whitehurst should be allowed to keep his back-up spot ahead of Josh Portis. Line up behind your undeniable starter, Seahawks fans. Jackson has earned it, and Whitehurst has earned permanent silence.

Play-calling may have been the biggest villain after the quarterback spot. Marshawn Lynch went out in the pre-game warm-ups with a back injury. The coaches seemed to think that was a major blow to their running game and decided to throw 30 times compared to 17 rushes. Surely, those 17 runs had to be unproductive to keep the team passing while they were getting such poor play from their quarterback...right? The Seahawks averaged 3.8 yards per carry on the ground and only 2.4 yards per pass attempt. They were nearly TWICE as effective on the ground, and yet the pass plays persisted. One could argue that the Browns were stacking the line and forcing the Seahawks to throw. Nobody can force a team to call a play. Look at the Browns offense. They were facing the best run defense in the NFL without their best rusher, and averaged a predictable 3.2 yards per carry. The difference was they ran the ball 44 times! The Seahawks ran 50 plays, total. No place was this more pronounced than the 1st and Goal from the two-yard line late in the 3rd quarter. Seattle chose to pass two out of three times, and settled for a FG. Leon Washington had 3 carries for 20 yards on that series. He averaged 5.6 YPC on the day. It does not matter how big or small he is. Given the options, there is no excuse to do anything but give him the ball three times in that situation.

Everyone will be up in arms about the refs in this game. They should be. The refs were so bad that they effected the outcome of the game. Every game I have ever watched where bad calls impacted the result had situations where the losing team could have controlled their own destiny. In other words, score a touchdown from the two-yards line, don't reach your hands out toward a player's back on a punt return when your team is clearly going to score, make a halfway decent pass to Sidney Rice when he is wide open so that he can walk into the endzone instead of fall out of bounds. Any one of those plays would have rendered the poor officiating irrelevant. Focus on what your can control, because it is a waste of energy to fret about the rest.

On a day when the defense played like an elite NFL unit is so many aspects, they were felled by poor execution on 3rd down. Over half of the Browns yardage came on 3rd downs. Of the 298 yards they gained on the day, 150 of them came on 3rd down plays. That doesn't include the two 15-yard personal foul penalties against Kam Chancellor and Red Bryant. It also doesn't include the offside penalty on Malcolm Smith on 4th down that turned a punt into the Browns first field goal. It does include conversions on 3rd and 12, 3rd and 14, 3rd and 8 (three times), and 3rd and 6. The Seahawks defense is too good, and the Browns offense is too feeble to allow that to happen. Allowing a 50% conversion rate on 3rd downs is reprehensible. Remember, that 150 yards was just what happened on 3rd down plays. The Browns gained 112 yards after converting 3rd downs of six yards or longer. That means that if the Seahawks could have just eliminated the conversions on 3rd and long, the Browns would have had 33% fewer yards on the day. Both field goals they scored came on drives where there was either a long 3rd down conversion or a 4th down penalty. The Browns never should have scored.

Losing Walter Thurmond to a season-ending leg injury played a factor. The team had held the Browns to 4-11 on 3rd downs at halftime, but allowed conversions on 8-13 after Thurmond left the game. Kennard Cox was forced into action and simply is not good enough. Expect Roy Lewis to be activated this week from PUP, and Richard Sherman to take over as the starter opposite Brandon Browner. Don't be surprised if the team adds another player, possibly a guy like Josh Pinkard, to the secondary after losing key players like Marcus Trufant and Thurmond in the span of two weeks.

There were a number of fantastic defensive performances that should not go unmentioned. David Hawthorne was the best player on the field Sunday. He was all over the field making tackles. He had two tackles for loss, a sack and an interception. Lofa Tatupu would have taken that in a whole season the last few years. This was the player we thought would be stepping in at middle linebacker. His knee injury seemed to really be hampering him earlier, and the week off looked like it helped. Red Bryant was right there with Hawthorne. Two blocked field goals? Seriously? He dominated much of the day, and even his head butt that resulted in an ejection was forgivable. Did anyone really want to see the Seahawks offense on the field again? Kam Chancellor was a beast. Between Chancellor and Hawthorne, there are sure to be long lines at the cold tubs in the Browns locker room today. K.J. Wright and Leroy Hill played at a high level as well, both notching a tackle for loss. Any time three of your top four tacklers are your starting linebackers, that's a good thing.

Chris Clemons has been so good, it almost goes without saying. He added two more sacks to bring his total to six on the year, which is on pace for 16 on the season. There was more than just pass rush with Clemons. He sniffed out two change-of-direction plays and made two tackles for loss. He is a smart, instinctive, player who deserves a contract extension. Now.

This was the most winnable game on the Seahawks schedule this year. The team very well may win a bunch of other games this season if they can get their quarterback healthy, and avoid more significant injuries on defense. Most of us thought the team was going to be driving Honda Civic this season on the road towards rebuilding. We knew we would get there, but it was going to take a while. The rapid improvement of the offensive line, secondary and the overall game against the Giants provided hope that the team had upgraded to a Corvette Stingray. Rebuilding would still take time, but this might be a fun ride along the way. What happens next will determine whether this week's game was simply a flat tire, or if that Corvette was just a rental. I'm betting on the former, but that feels dangerously close to breaking my rule about lowered expectations. This team can't play that bad again, right? 

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

Charlie Whitehurst was so bad, nobody noticed that Colt McCoy sucks too. Glad we didn't draft him.

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