Monday, November 5, 2012

The Morning After: Seahawks Handle Vikings 30-20

Seattle finished just their second game all season that was decided by more than a touchdown, beating the Minnesota Vikings 30-20. The Vikings made it more of a game than it should have been, with a dominant performance from Adrian Peterson, but the result was never really in doubt thanks to a Seahawks offense that is accelerating into the turn toward the season's second half. A wonderfully balanced attack produced 190 yards passing, and a season-high 195 yards rushing. They scored a touchdown on their first four red zone possessions, before settling for a game-icing field goal and a game-ending kneel down. The team came into the game as the 30th ranked offense in the red zone, scoring a TD on only 38% of their trips. They have now scored a touchdown on eight of their last 13 red zone trips, with one of those 13 being a kneel-down. Their 60% red zone rate in the last three games ranks 11th in the NFL over that span. Seattle did what they were supposed to do in beating the Vikings. The way they got there was a mix of surprise and predictability.

There appears to be some segment of the fan base that is poised to pounce on the defense whenever an opponent succeeds in any way. Peterson throttled the team yesterday. It is true. He ran over, around and through the Seahawks. He was the most impressive athlete I have seen play in Seattle since watching Larry Fitzgerald for the first time. His ability to stop, start, and reach full speed in a few steps with a body of that size would seem to defy the laws of physics. His greatness is not an excuse for allowing nearly 250 yards rushing, but he was going to have a darn good day no matter what defense he faced. Minnesota was lucky that he did, because this game would have gotten incredibly ugly without him. Seattle dominated third down and every pass attempt with aggressive pressure and smothering secondary play. There were no open check-downs or crossing routes. Christian Ponder had little time to find a receiver, and he was horribly inaccurate when he did let loose. 

Gus Bradley and Pete Carroll were obviously going to bring more blitzes yesterday on 3rd down. They just had to. My unofficial count was five 3rd and 7+, five blitzes, and zero conversions. Linebackers were often stacked behind the defensive ends, and would run two-man games to challenge the blockers. They won. A lot. The more aggressive pass pressure in the game plan could have been part of the reason there were more open running lanes. We have seen similar results in the second half against Green Bay. Seattle has spent much of the season relying on a fundamentally sound and balanced base defense. Putting more emphasis on pass rush requires a de-emphasis somewhere else, often leaving a team more vulnerable to deep passes or runs. Do not be surprised to see the coaching staff continue to lean forward in pass pressure, rely on their great cornerbacks to hold up on the outside, and possibly give up a few more rushing yards. 

The increased pressure will lead to more takeaways. The team had two against the Vikings. There could have been more, but Ponder's mistakes often were so errant that the defense did not even have a play to make. This team has shown they can play disciplined, assignment-correct, defense the first half of the season. It is time to let them loose, and see if they can be more disruptive. Yesterday was a step in the right direction. The Vikings finished with under 300 yards of offense, despite the 243 yards on the ground. There was only a 55-yard field goal in the second half, and that should not have been due to a delay of game that never got called. They finish the game ranked 3rd in the NFL in scoring defense and 4th in total yards against per game. Do not be too quick to write this defense off as only, "pretty good." 

Russell Wilson is the 11th-rated quarterback in the NFL, and the 1st-rated passer on his home turf. Anyone left out there criticizing Wilson has to admit a bias, because he is having one of the best rookie seasons for a quarterback in NFL history. He was masterful yesterday. The offense is still being tailored to what he can do, but he is making more and more of the opportunities defenses are giving him. Third down was still an issue, with the team going 4-12, but there were no long dry spells as we have seen most of the year. Seattle scored in every quarter, and never went more than one possession without scoring. They had three touchdown drives of over 70 yards and no turnovers. 

Their third down challenges were made up for with a 3-3 performance on fourth down. The most critical came on their final drive of the first half when Pete Carroll chose to go for it near mid-field, trailing 17-14. They converted and then marched the rest of the way for what ended up being the lead they never relinquished. 

The offensive line is playing wonderfully. Everyone knows they can run block. Wilson, however, has been sacked one time in the last eight quarters. I have read where people said Wilson was avoiding pressure wonderfully, but that sells the line short. They are giving Wilson plenty of time to throw and space to step up. The only sack yesterday came after Wilson chose not to throw to an open Marshawn Lynch when the Vikings were bringing pressure. This line has not surrendered more than two sacks since the season opener, and is doing it with whoever is healthy. James Carpenter was out. Max Unger had to come out for a few series. John Moffitt and Lemuel Juanpierre stepped in expertly. Hats off to Tom Cable again. He is doing a marvelous job.

Darrell Bevell deserves a nod as well for a nicely called game. Seattle passed when a run would have been expected, and ran in some formations and plays that they have not shown as much this year. The Vikings were off-balance much of the day. There was a heavy emphasis on the read-option that we first started seeing in the win over the Panthers. Expect more of that as it gives Wilson a chance to challenge the defense in a variety of ways. 

It was a solid victory in a game the Seahawks should have won. The offense continues to grow, and the defense is getting the opportunity to experiment until they find the right balance of pressure and discipline. Seattle hosts the offensively-challenged New York Jets next week. It is another game the team should win. The Seahawks have not been over .500 ten games into the season since 2007. They need to take care of business and prepare for a season-defining two-game road trip after they bye week. All possibilities remain open.

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