Friday, October 18, 2013

The Morning After: Seahawks Snipe Cardinals With A Bazooka, Win 34-22

Logo by Kevin Gamache, Hammerhead 

Go big, or go home. The Seahawks decided they preferred to do both Thursday night. In what was their most dominant performance of the season, relative to opponent and setting, Seattle dominated so thoroughly that two turnovers inside their own 20-yard line barely figured into the outcome. This was the game where the nation was forced to face a cold reality; the Seahawks are already the most complete team in football, and they should improve more than any other over the last half of the season.

It was a little over a year ago that Russell Wilson made his first start in Arizona, and was unable to win the game in the closing seconds with seven tries inside the Cardinals red zone. His return to the desert may have been the best performance of his career. Yes, he fumbled three times. No, that is not acceptable. Even taking those missteps into account, his play was transcendent last night. He had more sensational plays in that game than some quarterbacks will have all season. One of the most exciting aspects of his game was the clear growth he demonstrated in areas that had been lacking thus far this season.

The touchdown to Sidney Rice killed about five birds with one throw. Wilson showed patience in the face of a heavy rush, kept his eyes down-field, chose to deep receiver, who happened to be Rice that had separated from his defender by ten yards. The two hooked up late in the first half for a similar moment that was nearly as spectacular.

Wilson's touchdown throw to Zach Miller was at the top of his drop, on perfect rhythm, in a tight space that only his player could get to. His final touchdown came when all his receivers were initially covered and he did not have any rushers in his face. Last week, that would have been a scramble. This week, he surveyed the field with veteran patience and eventually found an open Kellen Davis for a score. Another throw late in the second half to Golden Tate was ridiculous. Wilson was able to drop it in a bucket 25 yards down-field with all sorts of traffic obscuring his vision.

His third down play was off-the-charts. He finished 7-8 for 51 yards, 1 touchdown and 0 interceptions for a passer rating of 132.8. No play better captured the improvisational ability and will to win better than his miraculous throw to Miller on 3rd and 3 after the Cardinals had crept back into the game at 17-13. It was the type of play that so thoroughly defies logic, that fan brains can only manage one-word utterances, "No...Yes...How..What...Holy!"

This is what Russell Wilson can be. Deadly efficient. Smart. Accurate. Improvisational. Irrepressible. For the first time this season, it is safe to say he took a clear step forward in his development. History has shown that he rarely steps back.

You would be hard-pressed to find a better example of a team win than this one. Nine different players had receptions. Four different players had touchdowns. Eight different players had at least 0.5 sacks.  Fifteen different defenders had at least one tackle.

The defense was a whirling torrent of terror. They, like Wilson, are showing clear signs of improvement. It is easy to start with the pass rush, but consider the run defense. Seattle started the season with questions at 3-technique defensive tackle and gave up 109 yards rushing per game with a 4.2 yards per carry average through four games. They have held their last three opponents, two of which were on the road, to 68.3 yards rushing per game and 3.1 yards per carry. Only two teams in Seahawks history have held a road opponent to less than the 1.7 yards per carry the Seahawks held the Cardinals to last night. The last team to do it was the 1994 squad.

FACT: Only two teams in Seahawks history have held a road opponent to less than the 1.7 yards per carry the Seahawks held the Cardinals to last night
Seattle only faces two teams in the top 16 in yards per rush the rest of the way. They already are holding opponents to 3.7 yards per carry for the year, so this could turn into a limbo game of how low can they go?

The pass rush was phenomenal. Belittle the Cardinals offensive line all you want, but they entered the game in the top ten for sacks allowed and sack percentage. The 49ers sacked them only once in San Francisco. The Panthers sacked them only twice the week before. Seattle battered not only the Cardinals statuesque quarterback, but their offensive lineman. Seven sacks and 13 quarterback hits makes for fun football. With 23 sacks through seven games, the Seahawks are now averaging 3.3 sacks per game, up a full sack per game over last season.  Only the 1998 (29) and 1984 (26) teams had more sacks through seven games.

FACT: Only the 1998 (29) and 1984 (26) teams had more sacks through seven games than the 23 Seattle has this year
The 1998 finished team finished with 50 sacks. The 1984 team finished with 55. This year's team is on pace for 53. And they are coming from every direction. How on Earth does an offense plan protection against a defense that has six players with at least 1.5 sacks, and eleven players with at least 0.5 sacks? Chris Clemons and Cliff Avril played great off the edge last night, but the story that needs more attention is Clinton McDonald and his 3.5 sacks. Remember, he had no sacks in his career before this year, and was cut before the season. In a year where every Seahawks cast-off is getting snatched up, McDonald could not get on a roster a week into the season. Seattle re-signed him the Saturday before the 49ers game. He is playing his way into a nice contract when the season ends.

Seattle now has ten days to rest up, heal up, and prepare for a Monday night game in St. Louis. The Percy Harvin return to practice will add potential for improvement and distraction. It will be worth watching how Pete Carroll handles it. This was a game that validated expectations. It was the most complete performance on the road since handling Buffalo last year, and this was a far more talented opponent. The Cardinals smelled blood after realizing they could blitz to good effect late in the first half and into the second. Seattle withstood the surge and pushed back. Carroll likes to talk about staying connected. Each aspect of the team was working in unison last night. That included a raucous contingent of Seahawks fans. It was a game that left you feeling proud to be a Seahawks fan, and eager to savor every moment along the way.


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