Monday, January 2, 2012

The Morning After: Seahawks Lose 23-20 to Cardinals

That was weird. Some fans wanted a win, others wanted a loss. Some players were fiery, some were going through the motions. Call it the Indifference Bowl. Neither team was playing a meaningful game for the first time this season, and it showed. Execution regressed. Effort was less. It was the game embodiment of a shoulder shrug. That's not to say players intentionally eased off the accelerator. Anyone who has played a competitive sport knows that there is simply a different level of intensity when something is on the line.

Seattle had plenty of chances to win this game. K.J. Wright got tackled by an offensive lineman on what should have been a fumble returned for a touchdown. Richard Sherman got caught on an interception return that should have been a touchdown. Marshawn Lynch inexplicably became an afterthought for three plays when the team had 1st and Goal before the team got a field goal blocked. These are the kinds of errors that are explained away as a young team learning in 2011 that will not be tolerated in 2012. That, more than anything else, will be outcome of this season. Nobody will be predicting 4-12 for this team next season. Nobody will pleased with another mediocre record. As much as this team progressed this season, and it progressed significantly, it still ended the season losing more than it won.

The primary focus of most Seahawks fans is what the team will do in the upcoming off-season at the quarterback position. Less obvious is the team's growing problem stopping the run. None of the Seahawks first seven opponents averaged more than 3.5 yards per carry. Eight of the last nine opponents averaged at least 3.7 yards per carry. Six of the last nine averaged over 4.2. That's going from a Top 3 rush defense to a Bottom 15 rush defense, and it's not acceptable given the type of defense the team is playing and the sacrifices they make on pass rush to play this sort of defense.

There will be time to break that down in more detail over the next four months. Four pivotal months. It is safe to say this team's ceiling will be set this off-season, and the Seahawks helped themselves by securing no lower than the #12 pick in the upcoming draft. It is anybody's guess how that pick will be used, but there is little doubt it is a valuable spot to be. Many great players are picked right outside the Top 10. Players like Earl Thomas (#14), Patrick Willis (#11), Ben Roethlisberger (#11), and more.

The best news about the game yesterday was that there were no serious injuries. I have stayed silent on Red Bryant's health all year, but seeing him finish a full 16-game season for the first time is big, like Red Bryant big.  Robert Gallery came to the team with a reputation as being oft-injured, and then missed the first few weeks of the season to fan the flame. He played in every game thereafter. Max Unger played his first full season at center. Earl Thomas came into the league with concerns about his size and durability, but has yet to miss a game.

Arizona will exit this season ahead of Seattle in the standings. They still have some short-term potential, but their ceiling is already established with their quarterback situation, and it's not great. One reaction to watching Larry Fitzgerald yesterday would be that they can be a great team. The other reaction, my reaction, is how bad is Kevin Kolb to struggle to play quarterback with a receiver like Fitzgerald on his squad? John Skelton is a terrible quarterback. Fitzgerald accounted for 150 of Skelton's 271 yards passing, and roughly 60-80 of those yards were on bad throws that only Fitzgerald could catch. Skelton ran up to Fitzgerald after his last spectacular grab of a shitty throw and looked like a starry-eyed groupie, "You're soooo good, Larry! I loooove you! Can I get an autograph?" Tearing down the Cardinals too much after a loss can come across as sour grapes, so I made sure to tear them down beforehand.

Analyzing the details of the game feels like wasted keystrokes. One continuing story line to monitor is the coaching staff decisions about when to run and when to pass. The team ended up with 178 yards rushing, which was a season-high, but curiously went away from the run on a number of key occasions. The last of which was a 3rd and 3 in regulation when they even motioned Lynch out of the back-field to take away any threat of the run. On one hand, this could be simply a failing in Tarvaris Jackson's ability to execute in situations the offense demands it. On the other hand, there is an apparent blindness--or unwillingness--to understand Jackson's limitations and stick with the run when it is working. The Seahawks could have easily eclipsed 200 yards rushing yesterday.

The number of deep throws made it clear the staff saw a weakness they wanted to exploit. Ben Obomanu dropped one that should have been a touchdown early in the game (part of a terrible day for the normally dependable wideout). Richardo Lockette made a great play on another that became the Seahawks longest play of the season. That's the thing, though, with deep passes. High risk, high reward is not what this team is made to do.

No part of the team may have further to grow than the offensive playcalling. Bubble screens, odd substitutions of Justin Forsett, total lack of involvement for Zach Miller all need to change. The coaching staff will benefit from a normal off-season as much, or more, than the players.

A couple quick parting notes:

- One remarkable streak continued yesterday when Skelton's passer rating ebbed and flowed past the magical 72.0 mark. Seattle has not beat a team all season when the opposing quarterback posted a passer rating over that mark. Think about that. That's like Rex Grossman, Tim Tebow level of quarterback play. The great part is that the team has held seven quarterback below that level. Skelton was well above that for most of the game, but dropped to 75.1 on Sherman's pick, and got as low as the mid-60s before the end of regulation. But, by the time the field goal was kicked, he was back to 74.1. Fascinating for a geek like me.

- Another remarkable streak was at risk as well, but withstood the challenge. Seattle is undefeated under Pete Carroll when winning the time of possession battle (9-0 through two years). The Seahawks were dominating time of possession for almost the entire game, and ended regulation with an advantage of over three minutes. The Cardinals final drive gave them a 35-33 advantage. 

5 comments :

Jeff said...

I am still in shock of how much they ran Forsett when it obviously wasn't working. My question to you HB is, do you think they did that because they wanted to see how much value forsett has? Or because they simply wanted to limit marshawn (and obviously wanted to lose the game too). Or because Bevell is completely moronic? I just dont understand why forsett was such a big part of the game in such crucial minutes when the beast would have had the best shot of making the yards....

gramsci said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
gramsci said...

What are your thoughts about signing Matt Flynn?

Anonymous said...

Love Justin but we have seen him for the last time in a SeaHawk uniform. Looked like they were giving him an extended look yesterday and with Leon here, with the same abilities only better, Justin will be let go for sure. Thanks for all your efforts Justin and good luck in the future.

RubenDaHawk said...

We lost the game yesterday (and in my opinion it was a big game that both teams tried very hard to win. You could see that from the body language) for two reasons: 1)moronic performance by our OC both with regards to playcalling, especially near goal line and in key third down situations and with regard to personnel groupings (overusing Forsett, underusing Lynch, throwing to Obo instead of Baldwin, etc. 2)poor clutch play by receivers and once again TJ. (If Obo only makes one of the catches he dropped we win), Tate not getting 1st down when going the wrong way after a catch, etc., but mostly TJ. I personally rate him lower than you Hawkblogger. I think he can't win a game to save his life (at least 2/3 of NFL QBs can IMHO). All of the wins we've had all he had to do is manage. Whenever we needed him to make a big throw at the end or lead a drive to a win he has failed miserably. How many times were we at midfield yesterday in Q4 and OT and he didn't manage to get a first down...I personally do not want to see him starting next year. If he starts next year then I don't understand why we didn't resign Hass for 2 more years. He is clearly better than TJ and would be a much better mentor to whoever we eventually draft at QB...our defense is awesome by the way, especially the secondary...