Monday, October 7, 2013

The Morning After: Seahawks Tumble In Indianapolis 34-28



Logo by Kevin Gamache, Hammerhead 

Enter an auditorium before a symphony is about to begin, and you will hear the orchestra warming up. The sounds are disjointed, vacillating between sweet and sour. There are brief moments when the different instruments almost accidentally align and the resulting sound is blissful, but fleeting. Five weeks into the season, the Seahawks are stuck in perpetual warm-up. Their talent is so overwhelming, and coaching so strong, that they have been able to exit that stretch 4-1, but this team has yet to put together a complete game. Missing five starters on offense, Seattle dominated a quality Colts team for much of the first quarter. All three phases of the team worked in perfect harmony. Then, the screech of the violin returned, the brass section whined, and fans were left yearning for the conductor to recreate that beautiful sound they now knew the team was capable of. The warm-up period continues, but there are signs the show is about to begin.

Russell Wilson played arguably his best game of the season. His numbers do not fully reflect the quality of his performance. He terrorized the Colts defense all afternoon. The offensive line was far better in pass protection this week, and when there was pressure, Wilson adeptly moved to space. There were a few passes Wilson will want back, as there are in every game. It just so happens that the ones he missed today were a little more memorable, like the one that sailed past a wide open Golden Tate before the end of the first half. Yes, Wilson completed less than 50% of his passes. Yes, he only averaged 6.8 yards per attempt. Yes, the team was 2-12 on third downs. None of those facts change my perception of a player who looked more like himself than at any other point so far in 2013. Wilson is about to go on a tear. The stage was set yesterday.

The running game was also the best it has been so far this year. A Colts defense that had been giving up only 85 yards on the ground the last three games, including 115 to the 49ers, was gashed by both Marshawn Lynch and Wilson. It is nearly impossible to judge individual offensive line performances during live action unless they are clearly terrible, but the team appeared to have a lot of success running to the right side of the line behind Michael Bowie and J.R. Sweezy. James Carpenter was seen dominating the Colts on more than one occasion, and Paul McQuistan was not the revolving door at left tackle he had been. There is an increasing chance that once Max Unger returns to the lineup, the team will only be missing one starter on the line. Bowie is in the process of becoming the new starter at right tackle, even when Giacomini returns from injury.

Doug Baldwin finally saw his targets increase after a fantastic start to his season. The nine attempts thrown his way were the most he has had since receiving 10 during his rookie year against the Redskins. He turned those nine throws into five receptions for 80 yards, and is now on pace for 947 yards receiving this year, which would be the most for a Seahawks receiver since Bobby Engram went off for over 1,100 yards in 2007. While Baldwin's catch rate was below his season average of 80%, he remained the most efficient target on the team. No other receiver with more than one target caught more than half the throws directed to them. Sidney Rice caught only one pass in four targets, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to defend his place in the lineup. Jermaine Kearse (or Keerse, as the Colts PA announcer liked to call him) continues to make the most of his limited opportunities. Golden Tate had an up-and-down game that could been a memorable one if a questionable offensive pass interference call had not gone against him and if Wilson could have been on target with that touchdown pass before the end of the half. 

I continue to see lots of grumbling about lack of separation for the Seahawks receivers. Too often, fans assume a receiver getting open or being covered is all about the player. The truth is that route combinations, overall play design, play-calling, quarterback recognition and timing, and line protection all play major roles in getting the ball to a receiver. Seattle also happens to have a receiving corps that does not excel in creating separation. Only Baldwin and Kearse find space with any consistency. Tate will never be a separation receiver, but that has not stopped him from being a game-breaker at times. This does not absolve the receivers of responsibility for providing good targets for Wilson, but the hand-wringing about this position group is overblown and simplistic.

By now, everyone knows this game was decided on third down. Seattle could not convert one and Indianapolis improved in getting them throughout the game. The telling stat that is getting less attention is the Colts scoring 34 points and three offensive touchdowns with only a single red zone possession. The Seahawks had allowed 16 explosive pass plays (16+ yards) on offense so far this season, and only one had gone for a touchdown. Andrew Luck and the Colts had four explosive pass plays on Sunday, and two of them went for touchdowns. Only six out of 62 explosive pass plays (9.7%) last season resulted in touchdowns against the Seahawks. Luck and company managed a 50% rate on Sunday. That is why one, you tip your hat to a great young quarterback, and two, you do not lose a lot of sleep over a defense doing something is simply never does. 

FACT: Only six out of 62 explosive pass plays (9.7%) last season resulted in touchdowns against the Seahawks. Luck and company managed a 50% rate on Sunday.

The run defense was fantastic much of the day. The Colts had season lows in rushing yards and yards per carry. It took some four and five yard runs at the very end of the game to even get up to those numbers. There was a point after three series that the Seahawks had out-gained the Colts 92-2 in yards. When there was an offsides penalty on the Seahawks defense on the fourth Colts possession, it was the longest gain of the day to that point. There was pressure on every throw. Even the long touchdown to T.Y. Hilton came on a play where Luck had a lineman charging toward him. That is the difference between facing a quarterback who loves the fight and one that runs from it. Luck deserves all the praise he will receive for his performance in this game. He earned the win on Sunday.

Colts coaches deserves some credit as well, as their halftime adjustments were better than Seattle's, and that is rare. Pressure on Luck decreased significantly in the second half, and the Seahawks offense had a harder time moving the ball.

Special teams played a major role in the outcome. The blocked punt that was nearly a touchdown turned out to be a big loss of five points when they settled for a safety. And the blocked field goal turned into a touchdown was a possible ten-point swing by itself. That is 15 points that certainly figured into the final result. Throw in the Sweezy penalty before halftime that cost the team a field goal opportunity, and the pile of very tangible lost points really starts to grow.

This was a game of brilliant flashes and teeth-grinding breakdowns. It was a masterpiece that could not quite come into focus. There was something for every fan in this one. Some will say the refs made terrible and costly calls against the Seahawks. Others will say the team has to win in spite of tough calls. Some will say this was a great game by Wilson, while others will say he cost the team with missed throws. It is possible for all of those things to be true. The same way it is possible to lose a tough game on the road to a good team, and still be on the road toward being the best team in football come January and February. The conductor is tapping his music stand. It is time to come together for a complete performance.

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