Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Morning After: Seahawks Leave No Doubt, Thrash NFC's Second-Best Team, 34-7


There was a time in human history when the Earth was believed to be the center of the universe. It was a deep-seeded belief with religious implications. Challenges to this geocentric model were met with skepticism at best, and severe punishment at worst. Scientists such as Copernicus, Johannes Kepler, and Galileo Galilei stood in the face of popular opinion, but it took repeated demonstrations, and many years of persistence before people accepted the Sun being the center of the solar system. There is probably someone, somewhere that still challenges that notion even with hundreds of years of scientific evidence opposing them. As long as there are people, there will always be those who choose ignorance over enlightenment. They will cling to beliefs that make them feel safe, important, and hopeful even when all proof indicates they are in serious danger, are irrelevant and have no hope. These people are called 49ers fans, Saints fans, Panthers fans, and even Broncos fans. Pundits and opponents awake this morning grasping for any evidence to prove the Seahawks are not the center of the NFL universe. They want to believe suspensions, playing on the road, facing elite quarterbacks, pass protection or any number of other things make the future unpredictable. Seattle continues to prove every week that the future is as certain as the sunrise. Everything revolves around these Seahawks and is at the mercy of their gravitational pull. Their light is burning so bright and hot right now, all life in the NFL universe is at risk.

Monday night challenged a number of closely-held NFL beliefs. That FedEx truck with the MVP trophy heading to Denver may want to return to the home office. Since the fifth game of the season, Russell Wilson has a 114.6 passer rating and is averaging over 9 yards per attempt. Peyton Manning is at 104.4 and 8.2 during that span. Wilson's team is 7-1 over those eight games while Manning's Broncos are 6-2. MVP trophies, like football games, are not won in the first quarter. Wilson has been resplendent the last six games.

No quarterback in the NFL, even the white-hot Nick Foles, has had a better passer rating than Wilson's 125.6 over their last six games. He is averaging a mind-numbing 9.7 yards per attempt during that span, while completing 68.7% of his passes and throwing 14 touchdowns to just 2 interceptions. He has 22 passing touchdowns, and is on pace to finish with somewhere between 29 and 31. Twenty-eight games into his NFL career, he has thrown 48 touchdowns and just 16 interceptions. Wilson has won as many games as any quarterback in history through two seasons, and he still has four games to go. Seahawks fans wanted a franchise quarterback. They may wind up having the best who has ever played.

He is not doing it alone. Remember all the publicity "The Percy Harvin Effect" got after 20 snaps versus the Vikings? It is far past time for people to recognize this receiving corps is among the best in the NFL with, or without, their most expensive off-season acquisition. Doug Baldwin is anything but the prototypical Pete Carroll flanker. Carroll prefers tall players with sprinter's speed. All Baldwin has done since taking over for Sidney Rice the last four games is average 72.8 yards receiving and 17.1 yards per catch. He has 17 receptions and three touchdowns in those four games after having 23 catches and 1 touchdown in his first eight.

Richard Sherman once told me that Baldwin could be like Steve Smith if he was given the chance to play outside instead of being pigeon-holed in the slot. That seemed like a stretch at the time. It may not be. Smith has averaged 14.6 yards per catch over his career. Baldwin stands at 15.1 after nearly three seasons. Smith has had only two seasons in his career with a higher yards per catch rate than Baldwin's 16.6 this year. I could make the case that Baldwin is the best slot receiver in the NFL. Better than Victor Cruz. Better than Randall Cobb. But that, once again, would sell him short. He may wind up being the best receiver on the roster, and a Pro Bowl caliber player. His ceiling is far higher than I realized.

One of the best plays of the game came from another receiver, and was not a catch. Jermaine Kearse had one of the best blocks you will ever see a wide receiver make on a screen pass to Golden Tate near the Saints goal line. He not only locked onto the Saints Chris Carr, but he drove him ten yards down-field and then planted him on his back Walter Jones-style. It was a GIF-worthy play.

The Saints pass rush was not over-hyped heading into this game. Their performance was nearly equal at home and on the road. They sacked Tom Brady five times in New England. They had at least three sacks in nine of the first eleven games. Their only sack Monday night came late in the game when Wilson appeared to willingly go down to keep the clock running instead of throwing the ball away. Since the Rams riddled the Seahawks with seven sacks on the last Monday night match-up, the Seahawks have gone four games without allowing more than a single sack. This, after allowing at least two sacks in each of their first eight games.

No quarterback in the NFL has been sacked fewer times than Russell Wilson (3) over the last four games

People will continue to sleep on the Seahawks offense. They will say this is a defensive team. This offense is on pace to break the franchise single-season scoring record.

Seattle is out-scoring the vaunted Broncos offense over the past four games, and lead the NFL in yards per play over the last three games (6.6)   

The defense is not bad either. What they did to Drew Brees and the Saints is just the latest in a series of unfathomable feats they have pulled off. Brees may find himself following Wilson around at the Pro Bowl this year for tips. You have to go back to 2003 to find a game when Brees had a yards per attempt lower than his 3.9 on Monday. He did not appear to find his first read open on a single play throughout the night.

The linebackers who were so crucial to the game plan this week managed to frustrate the 6'7" Jimmy Graham and the 2'5" Darren Sproles. Pierre Thomas, the Saints leading rusher, gained a total of 0 yards on four carries. He had never had a game in his career with 0 yards when having more than one carry.

Even when they did manage to complete a pass, players like Bruce Irvin, Byron Maxwell, Jeremy Lane, and Richard Sherman were there to knock it free. The pass rush was electric all night, even without the gaudy sack numbers to show for it. Cliff Avril continues to come on strong with his team-leading 7.5 sacks and 4 forced fumbles.

Avril has 5.5 sacks in his last six games, and is on pace for 10.0

Brandon Mebane looked like the rest treated him well as he set the tone from the opening snap with a tackle for loss.

And do not forget what may be the most dominant unit on a team full of dominant units, the special teams. Steven Hauschka just keeps making field goals and Jon Ryan continues to fluster opposing return men. After Darren Sproles returned one punt for zero yards, the Seahawks are now allowing 45 inches in punt returns per game. They are on pace to shatter the NFL record for opponent punt return yardage in a season.

This was Usain Bolt against Fat Albert. Mike Tyson versus Pee-Wee Herman. Seahawks versus Saints. Sherman famously said during the 49ers game earlier this year, "You were all expecting a match-up. This was a mismatch!" It was again last night. The Sun is rising, and all that it illuminates is there for the Seahawks to take. Buy your plane tickets for New York. The Empire City awaits the dawn of a new empire, an Emerald Empire. Terror awaits all who stand in its way.

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