Monday, November 11, 2013

The Morning After: Seahawks Leave NFL Speechless, Blow Out Falcons 33-10


HawkBlogger.com is experimenting with a new format that might be a better experience for all of you, especially the growing number of readers who are reading on their phones and tablets. Today's Morning After column is the first test.

Check it out here. Let me know what you think!


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NOTE: Some of you have mentioned there are problems viewing on desktop machines, so here is the full article in standard format. Thanks for all the feedback!

Something special may have started in the place everything ended last season. Meet your 2013 Seattle Seahawks. They will combine the spectacular with the suplex, leaving opponents beaten and bewildered. They will run over and around you. They will pass near and pass far. You will have no room to run, no time to throw, and on the off chance you do, they will hunt you down and take back what is theirs. Even punting the ball is not a safe choice. An opponents best option may be unconditional surrender at the coin toss. Good luck with that. This group of Seahawks players will not take prisoners. They want to see you submit. They want to see you tap out, and know they forced you to do it. Sunday was the day the Seahawks stopped playing the opponent across from them, and started the climb toward finding out just how good they can be.

No player better represents the Seahawks change of approach than Golden Tate. A player with so much play-making talent that John Schneider had him graded as a first-round talent before gladly taking him in the second-round in 2010. His talent was never in question, but his ability to fully realize it in the NFL was. Midway through his fourth season, he is a threat every time the ball touches his hands. He is to defensive backs what Marshawn Lynch is to linebackers. Nobody brings Tate down on first contact. Sunday was the best game of his season as he caught six of the seven passes thrown his way for a season-high 106 yards and a touchdown. He averaged over 18 yards on three punt returns, and made the Georgia Dome his home. Carroll likes to talk about wanting players to be a factor. What he means is that he wants opposing coaches to notice the impact of a player, and force them to account for them in a game plan. We heard Tampa Bay coaches acknowledge their desire to contain Tate last week, and assigned Darrelle Revis to do it. He still changed the game with a 71-yard punt return. There is no Revis on the schedule the rest of the way, and what we witnessed on Sunday may be the first of many memorable performance by Tate the rest of the way.

FACT: Golden Tate needs 426 yards receiving over the final six games to become the first Seahawks receiver to reach 1,000 yards since Bobby Engram in 2007.

Standout performances were in full bloom Sunday, but the player who got it all started was K.J. Wright. His numbers (5 tackles) do not begin to tell the story of his play early in the game. The Falcons first series was basically 11 on K.J., and Wright won. He sent a clear message that the linebackers were going to be filling those gaps the Falcons running backs had seen on tape from the last two weeks. Much of the talk had been about Bobby Wagner, but Wright has not been his best as a WILL linebacker. The few snaps Malcolm Smith saw on Sunday seemed to come at the expense of Wright, as Wagner did not appear to leave the field much at all, and finished with a team-high nine tackles. If Wright was challenged by the coaching staff, he certainly responded.

It is easy to look at the Falcons as a pathetic opponent with their 2-6 record coming into this game. They were 2-2 at home before Sunday, with a seven point loss to the Patriots and a two-point loss to the Jets. Their offense at home was averaging 28.3 points per game and 376 yards of offense. Matt Ryan was averaging 346 yards passing at the Georgia Dome, and had thrown nine touchdowns and only one interception. Seattle held them to 10 points, 226 yards and season-low 172 yards passing for Ryan. Thirty-one of those came on the Falcons final drive when Harry Douglas broke free before Walter Thurmond tracked him down and forced the games only turnover. If the referees had not made a series of highly questionable calls in their third quarter touchdown drive, the Falcons would have ended up with a more appropriate three points for their work.

Thurmond continues to play great football. He stepped in for the injured Brandon Browner and did not miss a beat. He finished with two tackles for loss, forced fumble and fumble recovery. The Seahawks will be hard-pressed to re-sign him after this year as he is playing himself into a sizable free agent deal.

Brandon Mebane deserves a tip of the cap. His work is tireless and thankless. No player is more challenged by this late bye week than Mebane. Defensive lineman wear down as the season goes on, especially interior lineman. He played a terrific game on Sunday, and Pro Football Focus has him rated as the best player on the defense thus far. One more game big fella, and then you take a well-earned rest.

The offensive line took a page out of the wide receivers playbook. With everyone doubting them, and assuming they can only be average until reinforcements arrive, they stood up and had everything to do with this outcome. They were a Russell Wilson decision to hold the ball along the sideline away from shutting out an opponents pass rush for two weeks. Atlanta finished with that one sack and three quarterback hits. Wilson looked more comfortable and untouched than at any time in the season so far. A big part of that was the fantastic run blocking on the way to 42 carries for 211 yards. Michael Bowie had a particularly good game clearing the way for running backs. As did Michael Robinson, who continues to be a significant upgrade at fullback.

The line was aided by coaches who have finally turned the corner themselves. Gone are the deep dropbacks on first down that required the line to protect for too long. Seattle passed quickly, getting the ball to Lynch for easy yards or Luke Willson on a bootleg or Doug Baldwin on short routes. The scheme was not matching the player's capabilities for a while, and the team paid for that. Credit them for adjusting and making Seattle a far harder team to defend.

They also deserve some acknowledgment for ending an uncharacteristic unwillingness to play a young player in Alvin Bailey. Bailey got plenty of time at various spots along the line. He played at least left tackle and right guard, and possibly more. He was often substituted for Paul McQuistan at left tackle during passing situations, and he showed the talent I had seen in training camp. It will be ironic if two years after spending  first and third-round picks on lineman, the Seahawks find their true lineman of the future in a seventh-round pick (Bowie) and an undrafted free agent (Bailey).

Logic would lead one to believe Bailey will take a seat again with Russell Okung, Breno Giacomini, and Max Unger due back as soon as this week. Bailey may have earned continued rotation at guard. In fact, there is reason to wonder if both Bailey and Bowie wind up taking snaps at the guard spots the rest of the way. Bowie may very well be the player Seattle had hoped James Carpenter would become when they drafted him. He can play right tackle, but could be a devastating combination blocker with Okung on the left side. No matter how it plays out, the Seahawks appear to be headed toward their strongest offensive line play at just the right time.

The defense has largely done its job through ten games. The offense has been far more uneven. One year ago, they caught fire and finished the second half averaging 34 points per game after averaging just 17 in the first half of the season. Seattle did much better in the first half of this year with by averaging 26 points per game, but have upped it to 30 points per game to start the second half. There are underlying signs of strength that make it seem plausible the Seahawks could go on another offensive flourish the end this season.

Third downs had been a problem all year, where they converted just under 34% of their chances through eight games. They have converted 63% in their last two. Their red zone percentage of 56% after eight games has been raised to 63% the last two. A very respectable 5.5 yards per play to start the year is an off-the-charts 7.0 the last two weeks. Denver, a possibly historic offense, is at 6.4 yards per play on the year, and just 6.0 their last three games.

FACT: The Seahawks have converted 63% of their third downs the last two weeks

Wilson has been on fire, completing 73% of his passes at 9.7 yards per attempt. He finished the 2012 season at an almost impossible rate of efficiency, with a 123.6 passer rating and 9 yards per attempt. He is besting almost all those numbers two games in the second half of 2013. His command and decisiveness appears to be at an all-time high. His line is protecting him and his coaching staff is putting him in better situations to succeed. His receivers are making the most of every chance he gives them, and might be a better group as currently constituted than it was earlier in the year. And, oh yeah, Percy Harvin, Unger, Okung and Giacomini are coming back soon.

Halloween ended a little late for the Seahawks this year. They left their masks on long enough to shake a few doubters off their bandwagon. They were royalty donning rags to blend in with the commoners. No longer. It is time for their true identity to be known. They are a force that will crumple face masks and buckle knees. You can cut off an arm, and they will simply beat you with it. It will be easy for people to dismiss what is happening as two wins against two poor teams. Let them think that. Seattle is gathering strength for a ferocious finish. Hold onto something. The streets will rumble. Buildings will shake. The Seahawks are coming.

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