Monday, October 10, 2011

The Morning After: Seahawks Win 36-25 vs. Giants

Seattle had been in this situation before. After dominating much of the game against a favored New York team, they clung to a lead with the opponent perilously close to the end zone. A false start moved the opponent back to the five-yard line before a quarterback sneak on fourth down fell short, except the refs decided Vinny Testaverde's helmet breaking the plane of the goal line was as good as the ball. Cortez Kennedy, Shawn Springs, Jay Bellamy and Dennis Erickson left New York empty-handed in their quest for a playoff appearance on that cold December Sunday in 1998. Then New York Jets Head Coach Bill Parcells was quoted as saying: "God's playing in some of these games, and He's telling (Dennis) Erickson that he's going to have to wait a while and He's telling Parcells, 'Here's a rabbit's foot.' " There were other similarities, like Testaverde throwing for over 400 yards, a Seahawks receiver (Joey Galloway) torching the opponent for 130 yards, and a pick-six by Anthony Simmons. Unlike that game, this Seahawks team never led by more than a score until the final tally, and most importantly, they won.

Three weeks ago, this team was held scoreless. Two weeks ago, they won a game scoring 13 points that felt like  the best they would be able to manage. One week ago, they scored 21 points in the second half and had fans asking if they would ever repeat that kind of performance this season. Yesterday, the team scored 20 points in the fourth quarter and had fans talking playoffs. That, friends, is called progress. National media will tell it false. The story will be that Eli Manning had an off day, that the Giants played poorly. The truth of it is the Seahawks dominated this game in all phases, and it was only their generosity that kept this game from being a massacre. Marshawn Lynch fumbled inside the 15-yard-line. Michael Robinson fumbled inside the 5-yard-line by running into his own lineman. Tarvaris Jackson forced a pointless throw before half that became an interception and a game-tying touchdown. If that wasn't enough, Kam Chancellor tipped a deep pass that would have fallen incomplete if he missed it, but instead led to ridiculous 68-yard touchdown by the obnoxious Victor Cruz. The worst part of the game may have been being forced to watch his ladylike touchdown dance. Your salsa, sir, is mild and weak. If that wasn't enough, the Seahawks tried to tie their other hand behind their back with injuries to Zach Miller, Jackson, John Moffitt, Leroy Hill, and Russell Okung. That, after entering the game without starters Robert Gallery and Marcus Trufant. Oh, and don't forget the 70 penalty yards the Seahawks gifted their opponent as well. Take any number of those out of this game, and the Seahawks may have scored in the 50s.

Before Jackson's interception with 40 seconds left before halftime, and the resulting touchdown drive by the Giants, the Seahawks had held Manning's offense to 104 yards while piling up 242 of their own. By the end of the 3rd quarter, the Giants were 0-8 on 3rd down conversions, were averaging 2.1 yards-per-carry, and the vaunted Cruz had 2 receptions for 19 yards. Leroy Hill's injury appeared to have a major effect in the fourth quarter as the Giants targeted his replacement, Aaron Curry, repeatedly with great success. The Giants entered the 4th quarter with 199 yards of offense and 14 points. They exited the game with 464 yards of offense and 25 points. Curry was replaced by K.J. Wright, which did little to slow the bleeding. Neither player has been getting snaps at Hill's weakside (WILL) linebacker spot, and backup WILL Malcolm Smith was inactive due to injury. It was interesting to see newly signed David Vobora take over strongside (SAM) linebacker. Unlike the other linebackers on the roster, Vobora is exclusively a SAM.

After a troubling opening drive that saw the Giants go 80-yards in seven plays for a touchdown, the Seahawks defense played lights out all the way until that fourth quarter. Earl Thomas recovered a fumble caused by Chris Clemons and intercepted a Manning pass. Brandon Browner frustrated Hakeem Nicks and Walter Thurmond played with more confidence than he has since he arrived in Seattle. His break on the ball and near diving interception was as pretty a play as you will see a cornerback make. Seattle fans continue to adjust to Browner's style of play. He is similar to the Bears Charles Tillman in that he probably commits a penalty on every play, but knows the refs won't throw the flag every time. Tillman's opponents often leave the game complaining about what he gets away with, and Browner is quickly piling up receivers saying the same thing. No statistic can tell you how many times a quarterback was forced off his initial read, but Manning rarely was hitting the top of this drop yesterday and letting the ball loose. The idea that the Seahawks pass defense might be stronger without Trufant seemed silly before yesterday, but Richard Sherman, Thurmond and Browner make the future look bright. And don't look now, but Roy Lewis is two weeks away from being activated from PUP.

The run defense was just a pleasure to watch. A football team's character is defined by how both lines play, and the Seahawks shined their against the Giants. Red Bryant, Brandon Mebane, Alan Branch, Anthony Hargrove, Clemons and Raheem Brock all showed up at various points throughout the game. Clemons deserves extra praise for playing hard with a bum ankle and on the last year of a contract he has outperformed. Three sacks might not seem like much, but the team had only managed five sacks in the first four games of the season. Clemons now has four of the team's eight sacks. Hargrove's safety and Branch's sack were promising examples of interior penetration this team has been lacking. The team is now tied for best rushing defense in the NFL, allowing only 3.1 YPC. Read that again: number one rush defense in the NFL. Any lingering questions about whether the first six games of last season were a fluke can now be put to rest. That run defense continues to translate into longer 3rd downs and lower opponent conversion rates. The Seahawks defense ranks 3rd in the NFL in opponents 3rd down conversion rate, at only 32%. That is heady stuff, and something all fans should take pride in.

It was a breakout game for turnovers as well, seeing the team force five when they only had forced two all season. It could have been six if Hill would have made a simple recovery. The increased pressure goes hand-in-hand with increased turnovers. Seattle defensive coordinator Gus Bradley used Chancellor's return wisely by blitzing him regularly. Chancellor was in Manning's face much of the day, and continues to be in the conversation for MVP of the defense. He ended the game with his second interception of the year. That is now two games he has sealed with picks, a habit worth continuing.

Jackson led the offense to dizzying heights early on. Many obstacles were overcome during the team's opening 80-yard touchdown drive. Scoring early? No problem. 10AM start? Bring it on. No huddle can't be featured? Think again. Carroll went so far as to mention his experience defending Jim Kelly and the Buffalo Bills K-Gun offense back in the 90s. He said they will be studying tape of it over the bye week, and others like it. That's called pivoting and adapting on the fly. Give the coaches credit. Take away the one terrible decision before halftime, and it would be hard to argue Jackson was anything less than brilliant. He was making pinpoint throws, and was incredibly decisive. He is also checking into and out of plays at the line with much more frequency and confidence. Charlie Whitehurst came in and performed fantastically, especially considering the circumstance. He made some tough throws, and most importantly, led the team on the go-ahead 80-yard touchdown drive. He deserves recognition for a job well done. It was easily his most impressive performance as a Seahawk, and his first game going over 7.5 yards-per-attempt. He threw down-field and still protected the ball. Some went so far as to imply there should be a quarterback controversy after the bye. That is ludicrous. Whitehurst played well. Jackson played better, and is improving each week. The injury will decide how that position plays out. A torn pectoral muscle makes the decision a simple one.

Mike Williams had to be wincing back home as the offense exploded without him. Finding ways to best mix him in with Doug Baldwin, Ben Obomanu, and Sidney Rice is going to be key. Everyone is playing well. Even Golden Tate is making the most of his chances. Baldwin is rightfully the talk of the town. Almost unbelievably, he is 3rd in the NFL in explosive plays (20+ yards) for a receiver, trailing only Steve Smith and Wes Welker. He is ahead of players like Larry Fitzgerald, Mike Wallace, DeSean Jackson, Vincent Jackson and Andre Johnson. Even though Jackson has improved and Whitehurst played well, neither of them are close to the quarterbacks throwing to those other receivers. Baldwin is getting so open that he is quarterback-agnostic. It is not out of the realm of possibilities that he becomes the starting receiver opposite Rice and Williams moves inside to slot, and that's not a shot at Williams. Baldwin is just that valuable.

There was so much to celebrate in this victory, it would be easy to forget the best part. It is not often that an offensive line that gives up six sacks, nine quarterback hits, and seven tackles for loss is cheered. This group deserves it. Both quarterbacks had loads of time to throw the ball for much of the afternoon, and running backs had some of their biggest holes of the season as Seattle ran for a season-high 145 yards and a whopping 5.0 yards-per-carry. The fortunes of this team will rise and fall with the progression of this young line, and they took another big step forward on Sunday. The Giants throw some top-shelf lineman on the field on every play. Their back-up ends would start for almost any team in the NFL. If this game was played three weeks ago, like Pittsburgh, it probably results in a shutout. This line has made that much progress in that short a period of time.

It will be an important injury report today, and then a well-timed bye week. Before the Seahawks beat the Giants yesterday, it was hard to pick them to win any remaining game on their schedule. Sure, they would likely pick up a game or two, but they certainly would not be favored. A game like yesterday not only exorcised the demons of New York past, but raises the ceiling for what Seattle present can be. The team that played yesterday can beat any opponent they have left to face. The rabbit's foot may have finally changed teams. 

6 comments :

Jeff said...

Hell of a W yesterday. Loved seeing it.
One mistake i saw in your blog today..our TE is Zach not Heath :)

hawkblogger said...

Thank you!! You'd think I would have learned my lesson after calling him Heath to his face during pre-season. I fear that's going to haunt me for years.

Jeff said...

Haha. I sure hope he can get back on the field soon. Glad the bye week falls when it does, allowing these guys to get healthy.
On another note, I really enjoyed the BMW story from last year and just think he is a great dude with renewed love and respect for the game. I sure hope he can come back into this offense and have a defined role.

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shanemcr said...

Great writeup! Amazing to hear Eli saying he didn't want to lose on a tipped ball, he'd rather be outschemed or whatever. Uh, Eli, you were, and you almost won on a tipped ball, by the way. And about that Super Bowl...

Editorial nit: Something wonky in the second sentence of the fifth paragraph.

Brandon Adams said...

Good writeup, HB. Putting the kibosh on quality runners like Michael Turner and Ahmad Bradshaw has definitely toned down my skepticism towards the Bryant D, despite the state of their O-lines.

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