The Morning After: Seahawks Falter on Offense, Defense, and Still Beat Falcons 26-24
Offense
Defense
Special Teams
3.9Game Rating
Reader Rating: (45 Votes)

Richard Sherman was livid. His defense has just been pierced by a dagger he was certain could have easily been parried. A mistake was made. Perhaps, multiple mistakes had been made. Seattle still led. Their defense had been nearly perfect to that point.It was a smudge on a window overlooking a pristine landscape. Remarkably, the story following the game was about why Sherman was angry and how the team would handle his outburst. The better question is whether coaches and other players share the same standard that Sherman demands. If only every mistake was met with that level of scorn. This Seahawks team made key mistakes in all three facets of the game, and still managed to beat a very good Falcons team. They exit this game still searching for the performance that meets their standard.

 

An offense ungrounded

This should have been the game where the Seahawks offense moved the ball reliably and scored unmercifully. Instead, they lurched and sputtered throughout the game. Much of the problem could be traced back to a running game that is among the NFL’s worst through five games. Gone are the excuses about Germain Ifedi’s absence or outstanding defensive line competition.

This was a mediocre run defense and an inferior front four. Seattle still bogged down whenever they went to the running game. There is some chicken-and-egg going on as the team is clearly trying to break tendency by passing in many situations where they have run in the past. A running game requires rhythm and commitment just as much as it needs talent and scheme.

Pete Carroll has stressed the need for balance. They have not achieved it. Their championship aspirations depend on addressing the issues keeping them from it.

There is still good news on that front. First, the Seahawks scored three rushing touchdowns yesterday. Their ability to run power plays when they needed it most is not something to dismiss. I particularly liked the new elephant package that adds J’Marcus Webb as a tackle eligible and Joey Hunt at fullback. Hunt looked promising in that role even in just one play. He is quicker than one might expect of a backup center, and looked comfortable moving in space. I can’t help but wonder if they will find more opportunities to deploy him in that role.

The team also employs one Tom Cable. He has always struggled to field good pass protecting lines, but he has reliably fielded great running teams. The problem appears to be largely related to a new and young line that has yet to gel. Defenders are running free into the backfield, blowing up plays before they begin. That is not about talent. It is communication and execution.

Fans waiting for Russell Wilson to return to his normal running self to help should not hold their breath. The addition of Thomas Rawls may help, but counting on his health seems unwise as well. This is going to come down to growing with the players they have.

Pass protection becoming a strength

Seattle ranks 12th in the NFL in sacks allowed per game after allowing a season-low one sack to the Falcons and just five quarterback hits. That same Atlanta defense had 6 sacks and 10 quarterback hits last week against Denver. Vic Beasley Jr. had 3.5 sacks and four QB hits against Russell Okung and that Broncos line. He finished with no sacks and no QB hits against the Seahawks.

There were multiple times where Wilson had a good amount of time to throw the ball. One play, in particular, comes to mind when he was bouncing in the pocket for what must have been five seconds before narrowly missing a wide open receiver in the middle of the field on what was a difficult looping throw over two defenders.

The problem here was more around finding open players. Some of that is receivers winning and gaining separation, and part of it is play-calling. Dan Quinn is a fantastic defensive coach. You can bet he had a great game plan to take away tendencies from Darrell Bevell. There were very few deep throws. My guess is that Quinn was calling plays to force the underneath throw. Seattle can play that game, but are at their best when they stretch defenses down the field.

 

Step back and see the big picture, though, and you might be surprised. Wilson threw for zero touchdowns. The run game averaged less than three yards per carry. Doug Baldwin has only a few catches. Tyler Lockett was still barely present. And still, the team was a missed 29-yard field goal and a blocked extra point away from scoring 30 points.

 

This offense can be so much better. They are averaging 30 points per game over their last three contests after averaging just 7.5 in their first two. They must be more consistent to navigate this gauntlet they are in the midst of right now. Do not be surprised if Sherman’s old college brother throws a temper tantrum of his own soon. Expectations must be raised.

Defense nearly has their moment

For 30 minutes, the Falcons were befuddled. Matt Ryan was rattled. Pressure was coming from every direction. Receivers were tasting the inside of their facemasks as Earl Thomas was doing his best Kam Chancellor impression. Atlanta showed just how impressive that first half was by erupting for 21 points in the third quarter through an array of gorgeous throws, clutch catches, clever adjustments, and a few blown coverages.

This is every bit the offense that was advertised coming into the game. They have two great running backs, a Hall of Fame receiver, a Pro Bowl quarterback and a quality offensive line. They put up 372 yards and 23 points against the dynamic Broncos defense last week. Even with the third quarter outburst, the Seahawks held them to 10 fewer yards than the Broncos, and 11 points below their season average.

The run defense is off-the-charts. Atlanta entered the game as the 7th ranked run team, having racked up 122 yards last week in Denver. They finished with 52 yards and 2.7 yards per carry against Seattle. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman were almost non-factors on the ground. Scratch that. They were non-factors period.

 

Coleman and Freeman combined for 286 yards last week. They finished with just 67 yards between them yesterday.

 

Beyond the great run defense was a relentless pass pressure that had Ryan seeing ghosts and diving to the ground without contact at times. Seattle finished with four sacks and 13 quarterback hits. The vaunted Von Miller-led pass rush had just 2 sacks and 8 hits a week ago.

One of the more encouraging signs was how the team bowed up after they were slapped around in that third quarter. The Falcons three fourth quarter drives:

  • 4 plays, 10 yards PUNT
  • 3 plays, 14 yards INTERCEPTION
  • 4 plays, 0 yards TURNOVER ON DOWNS

That makes two times the Seahawks defense has faced an opponent who had the ball late in the game needing only a field goal to win. Those two offenses combined for seven plays and -17 yards. Clutch.

Many will overlook that fact that they did it without Kam Chancellor or Frank Clark for the whole game, and Michael Bennett for the entire fourth quarter. That is a remarkable accomplishment against a truly special offense.

 

The switchback to the summit

Any win is a great win in the NFL. A win against a great team is even sweeter. Getting this result on a day when there were crucial mistakes on defense along with missing stars, uneven play on offense with still hobbled stars, and nearly catastrophic errors on special teams is hard to believe.

Had Seattle played to their standard, this game would not have been close. It was 17-3 at halftime, and should have finished somewhere around 31-17 given the normal flow of a game. Games like this are won with hidden moments. Like Wilson pulling aside rookie Ifedi on the final drive when he was about to get into a fight that could have drawn a penalty and pushed the team out of field goal range. The oft-penalized Seahawks had just 3 for 30 yards. One more might have been the difference.

They converted three times in four chances in the red zone. They won the turnover battle by taking the ball twice and giving away none.

This is a team built to play any team, anywhere, in every way. They are not yet ready to tussle with the likes of the Patriots on the road. The scaffolding is there. The blueprint is right. They simply must keep building. Good enough is not great. Sherman sees that. You will know great when you see it, and it is coming.

 

10 Responses

  1. Doug

    Ya, this wasn’t the game I was hoping to see (except for the first half, which was great), either. And how do the Seahawks come out of the bye week with more injuries than they had prior to it? IF this team can ever get, and stay, healthy they will be unstoppable. Injuries are so often the factor that gets in the way of a team realizing its potential, and I have everything crossed that the Seahawks can avoid any more serious injuries to key personnel.

  2. hawkdawg

    Run game is a problem, for sure. Yards/carry is very poor, and DL seem to flash unblocked into the backfield all too often, and perhaps especially on short yardage situations. Ifedi in particular seemed to whiff on short yardage plays. This is supposed to be Cable’s specialty, though, so I’m less worried than if the same poor play were occurring on pass plays.

    I do think Wilson will continue to improve physically, however. He was better this week than two weeks ago, and if he doesn’t get the same injuries tweaked, the improvement should continue. Would have liked to seem him give Doug and Tyler more targets, but perhaps that was a result of Quinn’s scheme as much as anything.

    • andy

      It is early but it appears that is the case. The funny thing is when we had Beast Mode, the OL looked pretty good in run block. During Beast Mode and RW era, our rushers were leading the league in yards after contact, which probably gave us the impression the OL was “good” in run block. Now, we don’t have Beast Mode and RW is not running as much and the OL is “bad” in this area. To be fair this is a new unit, however, it is still mold under Tom Cable. But I do believe this OL, given a bit more time, will be better than the past ones, especially the interior. Like I’ve said before, JB will be a Pro-Bowler, sooner rather than later. How ironic is that this OL seems “better” in pass protection, instead of run?

      Regarding RW, I have hoped that when his injury occurred (not to wish that happened) but in the context of not relying too much on his athleticism, but more on his intelligence, high football IQ, and the great decision making process, to make plays within the pocket (when he decides to play that style because he is good at it, one of the top passers’ ratings within the pocket), and not scrambling around too much. However, I am not concerned about RW, he has always been a slow starter, he will finish strong. Hopefully, Rawls will be coming back soon. CM is just an average sub. Not very high football IQ, especially in situational football. But he is all we have at the moment.

      I am bit more concerned about our secondary as a sub-area of this good defensive unit. The first and second level are playing light out, even w/o the “third” LB. Shead is holding his own. ET is back to his normal standard. Sherman is getting more targets and torched more frequent compared to the past. I believe he has given up the most big pass plays (more than 25 yards). We have given up 9 and he has 3 or 4 of them. Not very Shermanesque like. Now, he makes mental errors, which probably worse than the physical ones because our defense is pretty “vanilla” in its design. Coming out of the camp, everyone was raving about this sub-unit because of its depth. So far, they have not playing up to the expectations and stardards. But it is still early. Let’s see how they will fare against another good qb in AZ next week, even though he is having a bad year so far. If he torched them then my panic meter will definitely go up another two notches.

      • pkgoode

        Sherman has also gone up against Brandon Marshall and Julio Jones. There is a view that he is playing better than ever.

      • nsromaine

        There is really no such thing as a shut down corner. We’ve seen the newest highest paid CB Josh Norman spanked recently and don’t even get me started with Revis island. Julio destroyed Patrick Peterson last year for nearly 200 yards when he was shadowing him full time.

        CB is the single hardest position on the field. Usually the fastest most gifted athletes that know where they’re going, when the CB doesn’t.

        Sherm is as good as any in the league.

  3. Dani

    10 of those points came from Defense giving them short field position. They just went down the entire length of the field 4 times (3 times field goals and one touch down). That’s not a potent offense.

  4. nsromaine

    Brian, way to introduce the business end of the hammer to the nail head.

    This offense is going to have to find some consistency if we are to reach the SB. I agree we should have had minimum of 36 points. 2 dropped passes for first downs on 3rd that killed 2 drives. Cmike, seems to avoid contact unless it is inevitable, always preferring to outrun the defense to the sideline instead of cutting it up and getting 2-3 the hard way. I am ready for Rawls return.

    Had we lost all the talk would’ve been on the miscommunications that led to 2 TD’s in the 3rd, when instead it was really the offense letting the defense down by not getting them a real blow and time to straighten things out on the sidelines.

    This is new territory for Cable who finds himself arguably with a group that appears to be better at pass pro than run blocking. That is going to have to change as we are truly dependent on the play action pass many times

  5. pkgoode

    The third quarter was a surprise to everyone — I don’t know that I’ve ever the wheels come so completely off in a game that had been going so well. My take is that Kam’s absence played a part on the two blown coverages. Not that Kelcie McCray is another Deon Bailey, just that KC wasn’t there to set the defensive backfield. Luckily, this problem is about process as opposed to talent and can be fixed.

    The ongoing mediocrity of the ground game is the greater concern. Michael is fine when he gets blocking, but the run blocking is erratic. RW’s still doesn’t have his usual explosiveness, and he may not for the rest of the year. I also wonder whether we can expect anything at all out of Thomas Rawls. That being said, it’s still early and we all know how much better this team plays in the second half.

    At the end of the day, we’re 4-1, two games up in the lost column, and improving. This sure beats where we were last year.

  6. pkgoode

    P.S. Does Jimmy Graham playing like Jimmy Graham make a difference or what?

  7. Andy

    PKGoode- So going against the cream of the crops, you get torched and you are still considered to be the top dog. O.K. It’s like the argument of a boxer- always fight top-10 contenders but always lose. If you are supposedly a top dog then you shut down your “top” opponent. Or at least be in “damage” control.

    nsromaine- As I remember, Revis was pretty good in SHUTTING down his opponents when he was in his prime. Let’s see- how about Neon Deion, Darrell Green etc.. I have never considered PP as a top-corner. You might want to do some research on his analytics before espousing the same asinine argument from the ‘”pundits’. Just because he is “shadowing” the opponents’ top receiver does not mean he was proficient or effective. See the boxer analogy above. BTW, this year, it is still early, Sherman sucks on his.

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