Logo by Kevin Gamache, Hammerhead
On Adrian Peterson’s second carry from scrimmage, he ran to his right, and looked to be bottled up near the Seahawks sideline, only to cut back inside and find a gaping hole. He burst through and galloped 74 yards before Brandon Browner caught him at the 1-yard line. Just over a year later, Peterson took the ball 21 times and finished with nine fewer rushing yards on the day (65) than he had gained in that single run. He has played in 99 games over seven years, and only two other times has he finished with so few yards on so many carries. The final rushing totals for the Vikings do not begin to tell the story of how well the Seahawks run defense played against a determined opponent with Hall of Fame talent. Their young quarterback was playing well enough on this day that if the running game had found some footing, this could have been a much longer afternoon for the Seahawks. Instead, Brandon Mebane, Tony McDaniel, Red Bryant, Clinton McDonald, K.J. Wright, Kam Chancellor and Bobby Wagner deserve top billing for doing hard labor in a game most will remember for a more flashy debut.
That win over the Vikings last year was more pivotal than any of us knew at the time. It marked the beginning of a memorable second half of the season for Seattle. The Seahawks have gone 17-2 since that point in the regular season. The offense scored 30 points that day, and went on to average 34 points per game the last half of 2012. Some talked about that run as unlikely to be repeated. Seattle is averaging 33.7 ppg in the last three games to start the second half of 2013. In fact, the Seahawks are now the 4th-highest scoring offense in football at 27.8 ppg. They continue to show signs of recapturing the scoring magic that led them to such lofty heights at the end of last season.
FACT: Seattle is scoring on 56% of their drives in the second half of 2013 after scoring on just 39% of their drives the first eight games
The formula involves a bruising rushing attack and a highly efficient passing attack that takes big chunks of yards. That the Seahawks were able to score 31 points without a lot of help from the running game Sunday is a testament to the growth of Russell Wilson and the receiving corps. The defense then quickly helped turned that into 41 points once blood was in the water.
Percy Harvin played his last game as a Viking in the same place he played his first game as a Seahawk. You could feel the caution from the coaching staff. They had to be conflicted about letting him play before the bye week. He was not even introduced with the starting offense, as if to send a message to the home crowd not to count on seeing him much. Whether that was their intent or not, it was how he was used. Harvin played a fair number of snaps, but was only thrown to twice, with one official target after the other was nullified due to off-setting penalties. There was no noticeable change to the offense in terms of play-calling.
Harvin is at his best on screens, crossing patterns, and swing passes, but there was none of that on Sunday. It was interesting to see how few targets all the receivers got in this game. Doug Baldwin only got two, but made the most of them with a 44-yard catch and yet another highlight reel catch for a touchdown before the half. Golden Tate was an afterthought with just four targets and one catch. He appeared to lose more snaps than other receivers with Harvin back, but it is hard to believe that will be the plan going forward. He is playing too well to reduce his playing time. A total of 10 players were targeted on just 21 total pass attempts. Distribution is great when trying to keep defenses off-balance, but Darrell Bevell must be careful not to allow defenses to keep the ball away from his best players. This team needs Harvin, Baldwin, Tate and Jermaine Kearse to get the bulk of the targets.
One player who is struggling to justify the reps he is getting is Robert Turbin. He lacks elusiveness as a runner, which would be okay if he was not going down on first contact so often. Pete Carroll has made it clear that Christine Michael is being held back by his lack of polish in the passing game in terms of blitz pickup and general pass protection. There is no credible case for saying Turbin is a better asset as a runner, which further reinforces the notion that this is about less glamorous jobs like pass blocking.
It has been eleven games now, fifteen if you include pre-season. At some point, this becomes about the coaches inability to get Michael prepared to take the field. Inserting yet another wildcard into the pass blocking while Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini and Max Unger were missing games probably did not make a lot of sense. Now that they are back, the Seahawks would be wise to start mixing Michael in more regularly. He is a weapon that could change a game. Turbin simply has not shown evidence that he is more than a solid back-up runner. One story line to follow will be whether coaches look to Harvin to take some snaps from Turbin. In any case, we should see less of Turbin the rest of the way if the coaches are looking to optimize this offense.
Speaking of pass protection, the Seahawks surrendered just one sack, which makes it three games in a row at one sack or less. The offensive line played okay against what looked to be an inspired Minnesota defensive line. I was not able to observe the substitution pattern, but did see James Carpenter and McQuistan swapping throughout the game. It was clearly a blow to Michael Bowie to go from 7th round pick to starter to inactive. Lynch showed part of what makes him a hidden leader on this team in how he handled it.
FACT: The Seahawks are allowing 0.7 sacks per game the last three games after allowing 3.4 sacks per game in the first eight games
Tom Cable has some work to do to get this group humming again coming out of the bye with two tough match-ups. Line play is about continuity nearly as much as it is about talent. As great as it is to have Okung and Giacomini back, it will take some time for them to regain their form, and they don’t have much time to do it.
No group of players will benefit more from the week off than the defensive line, and even more specifically, the defensive tackles. The same philosophy running teams have about pounding away at a defense in the first half of games to wear them down for the second half, applies in aggregate across the season. Even granite cracks eventually. There is no glory to be found in taking on multiple blockers or squeezing gaps, but guys like Bryant, Mebane and McDaniel do it game after game. Thank your neighborhood defensive lineman.
The defense, as a whole, is dragging a bit as they reach the bye. They are allowing 19 ppg over their last seven games, and have seen opponent 3rd down success, rushing success, and red zone success increase. If there is one group that has shown marked improvement the past two weeks, it would be the linebackers. Wagner is finally looking like the player we saw a season ago. He has had at least nine tackles in each of the past three games, and has added 2.5 sacks and an interception. He very easily could have had two interceptions on Sunday. His weakside counterpart, K.J. Wright had another monster game, matching Wagner’s nine tackles and adding another tackle for loss. Those two needed to step up, and have done exactly that the past couple of weeks.
Eleven games into the season, Seattle has much to be thankful for. They are the best team in football, and will have a great chance to reinforce that truth against their next two opponents. No team had ever won 10 games or more in consecutive seasons in Seahawks franchise history until yesterday. Only six teams had reached 10 wins in 37 years of Seahawks football. This team, and this city, are walking an unspoiled path. We pause now to take in the sweeping views from high above the valley we have known all too well, knowing that the best views are still ahead.