Monday, November 12, 2012

The Morning After: Seahawks Stomp the Jets, 28-7

Enjoy it, Seahawks fans. That was the easiest two-game stretch of the Seahawks season. Seattle did what it was supposed to do, winning both games convincingly. That deserves a special sort of recognition. Talented young teams lose games they should win. This team has done it at least twice this season, maybe more. Seattle did not lose this game. They did not make it a nail-biter. They went out and forced their opponent into submission. It was so subtle that many of the reactions in New York have been about how this game was within reach for three quarters. The Jets had 185 yards of offense. They did not score a point all day. This game was never close, not even when it was tied. The Seahawks gave the Jets seven points the way Bruce Lee would toss the unarmed bad guy a weapon. Asking the Jets offense to make a game of this would be like asking a one-armed man to clap, and that may be an insult to one-armed men out there.

This game was never about the Jets. They entered, and exit, this game irrelevant. Seattle, however, has earned back it's relevance with an offense gaining steam and a defense that remains one of the best in football. Remember when we all asked what this team would look like with even a mediocre offense? Don't look now, but Seattle has averaged 27.3 points over their last three games, good for 5th in the NFL over that span. Russell Wilson has a passer rating of 115.2 rating for those three games with seven touchdowns and one interception while completing 68% of his throws. Only Drew Brees and Josh Freeman have been better in that time. Wilson has 105.3 rating in his last five games, which includes a 0.0 rating for the second half of the 49ers game. Only Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Freeman and Brees are better over that time. Wilson's 15 passing touchdowns already rank as the 16th-best rookie total in NFL history, with six games left to play. His on pace for 24 touchdowns, which would be two shy of Manning's rookie record, and he's doing it with 10 fewer pass attempts per game. No other rookie in NFL history has had more passing touchdowns through his first 10 games. Let that sink in.

Marshawn Lynch rushed for his fourth straight 100+ yard game, and went over 1000 yards. Golden Tate and Sidney Rice ended the game with six receiving touchdowns on the year, tied for 10th in the NFL. Rice's career-high for receiving touchdowns came in 2009 when he had eight. Tate already has set his career high, and is making the most of every touch he gets. He had two receptions yesterday. One was a touchdown, and the other was a highlight-reel run-after-catch for a first down. His third touch was a lefty hurl into the endzone for his first career touchdown pass. Rice was not entirely impressed with the throw, "It was a spiral, and I scored. Before that, I give him a two. His throwing motion was the worst. I thought we traded for Tebow for a second."

Still, there is no denying that Tate is having a major impact on this season. He is becoming the play-maker people envisioned when he was drafted. There are still questions about whether he is a starting split end, or a rotational receiver. There is no question that the player we have seen earn more play-of-the-day accolades in training camp and practice over the last three years than anyone is finally bringing that to the field on Sundays. That catch he made for the touchdown, leaping over the helpless Jets cornerback along the sideline, is something I have seen at least a dozen times during a Seahawks practice. It is a signature play for Tate, something that comes easily to him. It won't be the last time you see it in a game. His antics are a little much after making these plays. It would be nice to see him act like he's been there before instead of flexing after knocking out Sean Lee or giggling after breaking tackles for a first down. That may just come with the territory for a player that enjoys the spotlight. He has the potential to raise his game when the lights come on. That could bode well come playoff time.

Doug Baldwin continued his gutty comeback from a high ankle sprain with three receptions for 42 yards, and Zach Miller caught five balls to bring him within two receptions of where he finished last season. That group of receivers and tight ends deserve recognition for making the most of their opportunities.

The defense held another offense without a touchdown. This was the third time this year an offense could not reach the endzone against Seattle. They came into the season with a goal to improve their pass rush, and now find themselves tied for 2nd in the NFL with 28 sacks. They had 33 all of last season. Rookie Bruce Irvin climbed within a half-sack of the Seahawks rookie sack record with his 6th and 7th sack of the year. He is on pace for 11.0, and took back the lead among rookies from the Patriots Chandler Jones. The improved pressure, combined with the stunning secondary play has led to Seattle ranking second in the NFL in opponent passer rating (73.8). The last two teams have thrown for a combined 145 passing yards.

Seattle has forced five turnovers in the last two games, after forcing only six in the previous four games combined. Takeaways and third down defense will continue to be key areas to improve, and the team held the last two opponents to a combined 5-21 on third downs. Bobby Wagner continued his stellar rookie season with nine more tackles, and remains in second place among NFL rookies in tackles, behind Luke Kuechly.

The run defense is not all the way back. New York ran for 84 yards and 3.8 yards per carry. That looks like a fine performance. It was below the Seahawks standard. Runs that were getting stuffed for no gain the first four games of the year are going for 3+ yards now. There were no explosive runs, but this is not an explosive run team. Let's see if the bye week allows this group to get refreshed. When this defense is truly elite, they are holding team close to 3.0 yards per carry. They did that in three of their first four games, but have not done it in the last four games.

Now the team gets the bye week. Pete Carroll has led his team to a 1-1 record after the bye week in his first two seasons. The Seahawks need to split the next two road games if they want to real shot at the playoffs. Losing both would put them at 6-6, needing to most likely win out. Winning one would make them 7-5, allowing them to at least have a shot at 11 wins and a division title if a lot breaks their way. Win both, and things really get interesting. This team needs to prove it can bring it on the road. Nothing about their game is predicated on playing at home. They run effectively, play great defense, and throw it efficiently. All those things should travel well. The time to prove it comes in two weeks.

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