Logo by Kevin Gamache, Hammerhead
Boxers prepare for an upcoming heavyweight fight by finding a sparring partner who can challenge them without ever truly threatening to hurt them. The goal is to work and improve. There may be some bruises, but the hope is that confidence increases and the results can be carried over to more challenging opponents. Oakland proved to a be a perfect sparring partner for a Seahawks team whose toughest games are still ahead of them. Seattle exited the game with some encouraging developments, but fell short of putting together the clean performance everyone wants to see.
Defense shines in all areas but one
Kam Chancellor was out. So was his backup Jeron Johnson. Bobby Wagner was still gone, and so was Malcolm Smith. Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane were absent as well. And yet, the defense played arguably its best game of the season.
Seattle held Oakland to 226 yards of offense (a season-low for a Seahawks opponent), 37 yards rushing on 2.1 yards per carry, forced two legitimate turnovers, scored a defensive touchdown, and put consistent pressure on a quarterback who had been the second-hardest player to sack in the NFL coming into the game.
Bruce Irvin stood out as a player who has played two impact games in a row
His interception return for a touchdown was a special play, but it was his ability to combine that coverage with strong run defense and good pass pressure that made it an eye-catching performance. He played like one of the best players on the defense. This was the first time it felt that way.
Linebacker play continues to be the best part of this defense this season. Wagner was marvelous before injury. Irvin is coming on, and K.J. Wright had a fantastic day. His 13 tackles were a career-high. It felt like he was in on every play. No Seahawk defender had even half as many tackles as Wright.
The Seahawks run defense was spectacular. If this was the only game where they dominated on the ground, it could be dismissed as beating up on a bad team. Seattle, though, has held half of their opponents under 3.0 yards per carry, and leads the NFL at 3.2 YPC against. For all their work-in-progress areas, that run defense may be the key to grinding out divisional wins the last half of the season.
The secondary played a terrific game. Oakland receivers combined for 8 receptions in 14 targets and 74 yards. They had one catch over 16 yards. This was the second straight start for Tharold Simon, and his second straight strong showing. The Raiders barely tested him, and when they did, Simon nearly picked it off. There will be some legitimate competition for snaps when both Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane come back. Lane may be the odd man out.
The only blemish on an otherwise masterful defensive outing was the red zone defense.
Oakland was 2-2 converting red zone possessions into touchdowns
Seattle was second in the NFL in red zone percentage last season, holding opponents to only a 36% touchdown rate. They are 26th in the NFL this year, allowing 65% of red zone possessions to turn into touchdowns. Even a 50% rate would have made that an unreachable 30-20 game instead of a heart-fluttering 30-24 distraction.
Bad day to be a Wil(l)son
Thank goodness the Seahawks only have two players named Wilson (or Willson) on the roster. Both played games everyone would like to forget.
Luke Willson had a chance to turn around a disappointing start to 2013 after he held onto the game-winning touchdown last week. Instead, it appears Seahawks fans should make a few copies of that play to remember what it looks like for a play to end with Willson still holding onto the ball. He was awful on Sunday.
He finished with one catch in five targets. That makes four catches in his last 15 targets over the past three games. That kind of inefficiency kills.
Luke Willson’s past three games: 4 receptions, 15 targets
Even Marshawn Lynch, who was vilified for not making a catch in the endzone last week, caught all five of his targets. Doug Baldwin caught five out of six. Kevin Norwood—more on him later—caught both passes thrown his way, even if only one counted. Willson was so bad on Sunday that it felt like charity when the officials still considered him a receiver when making a judgment on a possible intentional grounding call.
Seahawks fans ready to shovel dirt on his NFL career should consider the improvement witnessed a couple years ago with Anthony McCoy’s drop problem. Some of the blame rests on Russell Wilson’s shoulders, who was inaccurate once again, but Willson simply has to play better. The team needs him to.
The other Wilson played scared and rushed. He looked nothing like the poised player we know him to be. To call the Seahawks offensive line Sunday “patchwork,” would be an insult to quilters everywhere. Doctor Frankenstein would have thought this amalgamation of body parts was ugly.
Playing with a third-string center, only recently signed off a practice squad, a second-year undrafted free agent at left tackle, a rookie right tackle, and a rookie undrafted free agent at tight end and guard was a sight to behold. That Seattle had two touchdown drives over 70 yards and a 68-yard field goal drive is near miraculous.
Wilson was sacked just once, but was hit six times. They piled up 149 yards rushing, thanks in large part to a very strong showing from Robert Turbin (7.0 YPC), and the most spirited game of Lynch’s season.
Wilson was dancing in the pocket as soon as the ball was snapped, whether there was pressure or not. Maybe he didn’t believe he would have any time to throw. Maybe Oakland was confusing him with coverages. He made bad throws all day. The team needs to get him back to setting his feet and firing.
Kearse opening the door for Norwood
Hometown boy Jermaine Kearse has played possibly his worst two games as a Seahawk in his last two home games. He dropped key chances against Dallas and missed key blocks. Yesterday, he caught just one pass in seven targets. He has only managed 17 receptions in 34 targets on the season.
Darrell Bevell does not seem to know how to use him. Wilson does not seem confident throwing it to him. His best moments have come when he takes a shorter pass and bulls his way for extra yardage, but the team is counting on him to make the types of contested downfield catches that Golden Tate did last year. Kearse did it last year as well. He is coming up empty this year in that category.
Kevin Norwood is just a rookie with a lot to prove, but one thing he does is catch the ball. Four times has been targeted. Four times he has made the catch. It is a tiny sample size, but his college career offers more evidence to back up the notion that he can make the tough catch.
He also has some experience in the scramble drill as he was often the outlet for Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron when things broke down. None of the current Seahawks receivers, outside of maybe Baldwin, have shown much instinct for how to succeed when things break down. That is a pretty important skill when Wilson is your quarterback.
The offense does not need Calvin Johnson to succeed. It does need reliable pass catchers who make the plays when given opportunities. Having a starting receiver at a 50% catch rate will not cut it.
Better, but not great
Take a look around the NFL. The Broncos got smoked in New England. The 49ers lost to the Rams at home. The Chargers lost 37-0 in Miami. Find a truly dominant team out there. Arizona deserves some respect, but calling them dominant would be extremely generous. The Seahawks, meanwhile, have started to build something on defense that, for the first time this season, resembles what they have put on the field the last two years.
Important parts are returning that should only help to solidify that group. The last twelve quarters have been pretty consistent. The last two quarterbacks are under 70.0 for passer rating. There are not a lot of receivers running open or busted coverages. The pass pressure has picked up. The run defense has been the NFL’s best.
Take away special team scores, and the Seahawks defense has allowed 15 points per game the last three weeks. They allowed 14.4 last year.
The offense had a stellar game in St. Louis, but has taken a major step backwards the last two weeks. Getting Max Unger back feels crucial. He will take over the line calls and hopefully give Wilson more brain space to focus on his own responsibilities. Zach Miller coming back is looking more important by the week.
Lynch led by example this week, and may have been the single-biggest reason the team won the game. His backfield mates, Turbin and Christine Michael, are both playing well in the rotation. They need to develop one more legitimate receiver threat outside of Baldwin.
They are clearly in triage mode. Should they be able to continue improving their defense and solidify the offensive line, they can compete with just about anyone in a year when every team is flawed. No team is beyond Seattle’s reach, nor is Seattle beyond any other team’s reach. Welcome to 2014.