Monday, December 10, 2012

The Morning After: Seahawks kick history's ass, and the Cardinals, 58-0

I told you. I told you. That is what happens when the Seahawks play Matt Flynn at quarterback. And Heath Farwell at linebacker, and Lemuel Juanpierre... All of Seattle's back-ups got a chance to stretch their legs in victory like none other in the franchise's 37 years. It was a laugher from Arizona's first possession to their last. There was no lag between horrifying moments for Cardinals fans. Their offense having the ball meant a turnover was coming soon. Their defense forcing a punt meant a turnover was around the corner. The defense allowing a touchdown, well, you can see why that was no good. Arizona's quarterback play was so bad that at one point, Flynn was 1/3 for 0 yards, and his passer rating was more than double John Skelton's. Hmm, that's kind of fun. Let's reload that gun. Arizona's quarterback play was so bad, they willingly inserted a back-up that had zero touchdowns and five interceptions in his last two games. Arizona's quarterback play was so bad, they completed more passes to Richard Sherman and Bobby Wagner than to Larry Fitzgerald. Arizona's quarterback play was so bad, that Marshawn Lynch, Robert Turbin and Anthony McCoy all out-gained both players. Folks, it was bad, but their complete lack of talent was only part of the story.

There has been a myth perpetuated that this Seahawks team is not built for big victories. That is like saying the 49ers are not built for big victories. There was one other game this year when the Seahawks got average-or-better performances from all three units, and that was the 27-7 win against Dallas. This was the first time each unit played well. The offense has played well for weeks, the special teams has been rising lately, and the defense has been playing below their standards. This was the first glimpse of what this era of Seahawks football can look like--a dominant defense, coupled with an efficient, balanced offense, and a youthful special teams. Look out Emmanuelle Chriqui, because this group may be taking the mantle of best looking thing my eyes have seen.

This comes only two weeks removed from the season's low point. The team could not beat inferior teams on the road. Their defense could not protect a late lead, and could not force a turnover. Their offense could not make a play late to win. They were were one game above .500, and the playoffs appeared to be something the team would need help to reach. It felt like a very typical Seahawks story line that ends in mediocrity. Now, there is growing talk of a first-round bye and second seed. There is even a path to the #1 seed in the NFC. That defense that has been under fire is ranked second in the NFL in points allowed (15.5/gm), and is on pace to set the franchise mark for fewest points allowed in a season. Go all the way back to the Patriots game when the team allowed 23 points. That is when most fans point to the defense starting to slide. They allowed 28 points to the Lions, 20 to Minnesota, and 24 to Miami. Still, they have allowed an average of just 16.5 points/game in the last eight, including that Pats game. That would still be good for second-best in the NFL if that was their whole season average. Remarkable.

This was the type of victory that will have people thinking big. Was Arizona vulnerable? Yep. Have they been vulnerable all year? Uh huh. Yet, they were in nearly every game up until Sunday. They featured a Top 10 defense by every measure, and seemed poised to make a last prideful stand after losing eight games in a row. Seattle forced them into submission with stunning pace. Think Neo at the end of the first Matrix parrying the agent's attack while looking at his watch. Think Beatrix Kiddo in the restaurant at the end of Kill Bill Vol 1. Think big.

Even with the emphatic victory, Seattle has yet to win more than two games in a row this season. They head right back on the road to face another inferior opponent. The Seahawks won in Chicago, but they still have not played well on the road yet. They had 10 points with 25 seconds to go in that game, and had allowed Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall to play almost flawless football. There was one sack, and no takeaways. This team has a chance to build on these last two weeks, and be in a dead sprint when they come back to face the hated 49ers.

After being among the most bullish on this team heading into the season, I have been tapping the breaks the last few weeks. As great as that Bears victory was, this team has shown a tendency to give back their gains. That's how you end up never more than two games above .500 after eleven games. I needed to see how they would handle what I consider the second-best defense (after SF) they play this season. If that was a test, they passed it like James Bond taking a driving exam. The team has accelerated in two short weeks a rate equivalent to Adrian Peterson. They have gone from a standing start to arguably the hottest team in football.

There is only one opponent that have not shown they can beat, and they come to town in two weeks. The team I saw yesterday would beat the 49ers. They would beat anyone.

Player Notes
Any time a victory is as complete is yesterday's, it is hard distinguish the individual performances that deserve recognition. One that popped off the screen was Walter Thurmond III. Thurmond was fantastic all day. I have been telling anyone that would listen that he very well be a better player than Brandon Browner, and Browner is a Pro Bowler. Thurmond is ultra-talented, and just needs to stay healthy. Seattle will not face a receiver anywhere close to Fitzgerald's level the rest of the season. The only spot Thurmond needs to prove on the field is tackling. He bounced off a receiver in the second half. That will get tested when facing the more physical 49ers and better running games the next three weeks.

Byron Maxwell had himself a game as well. He is the player I expected to get outside reps when Thurmond needed to slide inside in the nickel, but Carroll had mentioned Jeremy Lane all week. Maxwell was out there from the get-go and played wonderfully. His coverage was good, if not as tight as Thurmond's. He is a big, athletic dude, and he looks like he belongs out there. He also had a terrific strip and fumble recovery on Patrick Peterson on punt coverage. I would argue the Seattle secondary has never looked better, even when accounting for the level of competition they faced yesterday.

Kam Chancellor is starting to show up...finally. He had his best game of the year against the Bears, and played impactful football again yesterday. He is closing in on forcing a fumble or getting a pick.

Bobby Wagner is probably going to win Defensive Rookie of the Year.

That's about the level of notoriety Wagner is getting, which is odd considering the Seahawks have never had a DROY. Wagner showed a great ability to make breaks on the ball in college and in training camp. It was only a matter of time before he had his first interception after joining the nickel team. He now has three, and should have four (Earl Thomas' crap roughing call in Miami cost Wagner one). Remember when people snickered after Michael Robinson called him "Baby Patrick Willis?" Not so funny anymore.

Bruce Irvin registered his eighth sack, and could be a top three finisher in DROY voting himself. If he finishes with a flourish, the Seahawks could have the top two vote-getters for DROY, and a certain top three vote-getter for OROY in Russell Wilson. Yeah, I'd say that's a decent draft class.

J.R. Sweezy was another member of that class who played decent football yesterday. Don't be surprised if the team continues to push Sweezy over John Moffitt at guard. Sweezy offers plus run-blocking, and just needs time to handle pass protection. Moffitt has not been a plus blocker in either run or pass situations, and is teetering on the edge of becoming a career back-up.

Sherman is one of only seven players in NFL history to have at least 6 INT, 3 forced fumbles, 1.0 sack and 1 touchdown in a season. Charles Woodson has done it twice. That is the type of player Sherman is becoming. And you can save your PED comments. I believe in the kid, now and in the future.

Malcolm Smith played well again in relief of Leroy Hill. He had his second tackle for loss in two games. Hill has one all year. Smith may not relinquish his spot.

Great day for Turbin. I sat next to his father during the season opener in Arizona when Turbin barely got a sniff of the field. What a difference three months makes.

There was an early third down and long when the Cardinals brought pressure. Zach Miller was pulled back next to Wilson for protection just before the snap. It was not clear who made the adjustment, but it was crucial to picking up the blitz and allowing Wilson to stand in the pocket and loft a pass to Sidney Rice on a crossing pattern for a first down. No play demonstrated the growth of this offense more than that one.

Good for Anthony McCoy. Many fans were calling for him to be released in the pre-season after a rough year dropping the ball in 2011. He has been a rock all year as a terrific blocker and an emerging receiver. He is a threat that teams need to take seriously.

Doug Baldwin is looking healthy for the first time all year. His acceleration on his late catch looked like the guy we saw last year. Watch out for him.

Flynn showed some rust early, but came back to make some brilliant throws. His most impressive play may have been evading the rush, leaking out to his right and then finding McCoy over the middle. He is a better athlete than people give him credit for. His throw to Rice where Rice got smacked was also gorgeous. The throw of the day was the 4th and 23 ball he put in perfect position for Jermaine Kearse, even if it was dropped. Do not make the mistake of hating on Flynn simply because Wilson has emerged as a great player. It has never been about Flynn vs. Wilson. Great franchises often have more than one starting caliber quarterback. That still appears true in Seattle.

No comments :

Quantcast