There is something special about opening presents. Not eGift cards or Microsoft points, but actual physical gifts in wrapping paper. Those fortunate enough to know that feeling of seeing a pile of gifts with your name on it, know the anticipation it breeds and the build up to the ultimate moment of truth when your get to tear that paper off to reveal what is now yours. That moment, when you see what you actually have, can be as disappointing as it can be thrilling. Is it an argyle sweater from Aunt Edna, or that remote control car you always wanted? This Seahawks season has been like getting sweaters, and socks, and pencil sets for the first nine games, and then seeing an Xbox One, an iPad, and those Beats headphones you always wanted. We all knew this could be a special team and a special year. After a torturous start to the season, these Seahawks are playing as well as they ever have, and that should be a gift that keeps giving.
The invisible man
K.J. Wright earns top billing this week. There are certainly more obvious places to start when reflecting on the sterling performance the Seahawks put together versus a severely overmatched Vikings team, but there always will be.
Wright is not flashy. He is just really, really good at what he is asked to do. The Seahawks defense was swarming to the ball and tackling better yesterday than at any time during the season. Wright was the leader of the pack. He finished with 10 tackles, 9 of which were solo. He was all over the field, and no Viking within his vicinity had the pleasure of taking a breath, let alone making forward progress.
Wright was one of six Seahawks defenders who had a tackle for loss, but as is always the case with Wright, it was more about the certainty of his reads and his flawless accountability for his assignment that stands out. He continues to lead this team in tackles, and should set a new career high. He is one of the best linebackers in football, having the best season of his career. That deserves recognition.
Where to start with Russell Wilson? Seven weeks ago, in this very spot, I wrote
that Wilson had been asked to take on a larger role in this offense and was falling woefully short of growing into that responsibility. The team needed him to be savvy before the snap and decisive after it. They needed him to excel within the offense at least as well as does outside of it. There were faint glimmers of evolved play, but it was beginning to seem like Seahawks fans would have to chalk this year up to a developmental season for their franchise quarterback, and hope that the frustration would drive the right offseason focus.
Wilson has, instead, decided to party like it’s 2012. You might remember the dominant stretch at the end of his rookie season when the Seahawks were dropping 58 points on Arizona, 50 points on Buffalo, and 42 points on San Francisco. That started when they scored a relatively modest 23 points against the Bears. That game famously marks when the Seahawks opened up the offense for their rookie quarterback, and he rewarded them with an offensive outburst this franchise had never seen before.
The Seahawks have scored 138 points in their last four games (34.5 ppg). The last time they did that was in 2012. They have gained 433+ yards in three straight games. Last time they did that was in 2012. Noticing a pattern?
People fondly remember the 2013 squad, as well they should, but the Seahawks offense has never been as dominant as it was at the end of 2012, until now.
That Seahawks team metamorphisized. They started as a caterpillar, and finished as a butterfly. The 2013 squad maintained a pretty consistent level of play throughout. The offense, if anything, devolved late in the season. The 2014 team was fueled by a run of defensive dominance. This is becoming the year that the Seahawks became Wilson’s team.
Give credit to the offensive line for developing. Give credit to his receivers for making plays. Give credit to his coaches for dialing up good plays. Ultimately, though, give credit to Wilson for proving he is capable of carrying this team as a pocket passer. His transformation is so stirring, Seahawks fans have every reason to dream big.
Wilson once again threw more than half his passes in under 2.5 seconds, per ProFootballFocus.com. He was 16-17 on those throws, and posted a perfect passer rating of 158.3. This stretch of quarterback play from Wilson is not just new for him, it is among the best in history.
Wilson has a passer rating of at least 138.5 in his last three games. The only other quarterbacks to do that are:
Aaron Rodgers, 2011
Kurt Warner, 1999
Roger Staubach, 1971
Tom Brady has never done it. Peyton Manning has never done it. Drew Brees has never done it. Brett Favre, Joe Montana, Steve Young, Troy Aikman, and on and on and on. The three that have done it are all Hall of Famers. Each offense they accomplished it with, ranked #1 in the NFL in scoring. Warner and Staubach won Super Bowls during those years. Rodgers led his team to a 15-1 regular season before being upset in the playoffs.
In short, Wilson is playing like some of the most prolific passers in the history of the sport during the best stretches of their careers.
What Wilson and the Seahawks offense did in 2012 was special, but there was some gimmick to it as defenses were not ready for the read zone option. They adjusted, and it went from devastating to rather ordinary. The way the Seahawks offense is playing right now has no gimmick to it. They are bashing people in the run, and lashing them with the pass.
Wilson’s development as a pocket passer is the latest lethal weapon the Seahawks have added to their arsenal. There was no better microcosm than when his 50+ yard touchdown run was called back due to a holding penalty, and he proceeded to throw a 50+ yard touchdown pass.
People will quibble about the Vikings missing key defenders or that the Steelers secondary is trash or that the 49ers are terrible. That same 49ers team nearly beat the Cardinals and did beat a red hot Bears squad. That same Steelers defense held the Colts to 10 points this week. Let outsiders diminish what Wilson is doing. The most devastating punches are the ones you don’t see coming.
Nobody will mistake the Vikings for a powerhouse offense. Still, they came in with a clear identity. This was the top ranked run offense, both in yards per game and yards per carry. Seattle was not the first team to know that the key to beating the Vikings was to stop Adrian Peterson, but few have been able to accomplish the feat.
The Seahawks not only stopped Peterson. They held him to the third-lowest rushing total of his career, and lowest in two years. There were key injuries to the Vikings defense, but the offense came in with the same players they have had while running to an 8-3 record. It will be easy for people to wave off this defensive performance because Teddy Bridgewater is not Ben Roethlisberger. Keep in mind, though, that Peterson came into CenturyLink Field in 2012 with Christian Ponder at quarterback and he dropped 172 yards rushing on that Seahawks defense. What Seattle did yesterday on defense was special.
The best part was that the Seahawks started to look familiar. A persistent question this year has been, “How can this defense look so different with so many of the same players?” It is a valid question. Coaching surely plays a role. Yet, I think it would be hard to watch the game yesterday and not notice a different effort level. It was rare to see a player alone trying to tackle a Viking player, and if he was alone, it was just for a moment. Reinforcements arrived quickly and in large numbers.
Peterson famously has shown the ability to wear down defenses this season as his yards per carry increased every quarter of the game. The old Seahawks defense had that same effect. They broke people. As crazy as it sounded last week when allowing a record-setting yardage day against the Steelers, I saw signs of discipline returning. This week, the energy returned. Don’t look now, but this defense is ranked #3 in points allowed and #2 in yards allowed with Baltimore, Cleveland and St. Louis coming up.
Head of the class
Speaking of reinforcements, it is very good news that the Seahawks suddenly may have a debate about which rookie is going to be the biggest contributor this season. Tyler Lockett started with a bang, and has been steady through the year. Thomas Rawls has been explosive whenever he has been given chances, and is becoming a legitimate rookie of the year candidate. Now, Frank Clark. Finally, Frank Clark.
The youngster who looked like a wrecking ball during the preseason has been more pop-it than dynamite this year. Then he introduced himself to Roethlisberger’s sternum last week and was arguably the most impactful defensive player on the team yesterday. He was sacking the quarterback, tackling runners for loss and batting down passes.
He did most of his damage from the interior, which will raise interesting questions when Jordan Hill returns to the lineup. Hill is sackless this season, and a key element to each Seahawks Super Bowl run the past two years was an interior pass rush. It was Clinton McDonald in 2013 and Hill last year. Clark is more talented than either one. He has three sacks in two games. Should he finish with 5 or 6 sacks, his impact on this team could at least equal that of Rawls or Lockett.
Lockett had career highs in receptions (7) and receiving yards (90) yesterday, while also returning a kick 47 yards and a punt 19 yards. He has been everything the Seahawks wanted and more. Seeing him catch that pass from Wilson along the sideline, take the hit, hold on and pop up unscathed was a big moment. He will need to prove he can do that as the team will be leaning on him and Doug Baldwin a lot the rest of the way.
Rawls. The glory that is Thomas Rawls. He ran for 100 yards for the fourth time in six starts. No other Seahawks rookie running back has had more than one 100 yard rushing game besides Curt Warner. Should Rawls sustain his pace of 118 yards rushing per start, he will wind up with over 1,200 yards rushing. He is just 49 yards behind the king-crowned-too-early Todd Gurley. Teams will feel compelled to play more coverage with the way Wilson is playing, which will give Rawls even more opportunities to gash defenses.
Rawls is already second on the Seahawks rookie rushing list with 778 yards
Cleared to dream
I have been deferring any talk of playoff scenarios until after the Seahawks ran this gauntlet of Pittsburgh and Minnesota and proved they deserved that kind of discussion. Well, they came out with flying colors and yet I still feel minimal motivation to examine every playoff permutation. When the Seahawks are playing to this level, everything has a way of working out.
Look around. What team makes you nervous? Arizona? New England? Carolina? Seattle dug itself a big hole all year, and their statistics continued to point to them as being the fifth or sixth best team in football. They have raised their level of play considerably the last few weeks, regardless of competition. I believe this Seahawks team could beat any team on any field. They are playing at a championship level. Those are just words until they go out and prove it each week.