The Morning After: Seahawks Beat Ravens, 22-17

Make it four. The Seahawks have been around for more than 35 years, and have done lots of things, but big upsets have been few, and far between. Pete Carroll’s Seahawks have managed to win four of the most improbable games in recent Seahawks history the past two seasons. First, was the win in Chicago last year that exorcised dozens of demons by winning on the road, at 10AM, after a bye week, against an above .500 team. That’s probably happened half-a-dozen times in 35 years. Then, there was the Saints game in the playoffs where they became the largest playoff underdog to win in NFL history. A few weeks back, they beat the Giants by scoring 36 points, after averaging only 14.5 through the first four games of the season. Then, yesterday happened. A team considered a legitimate Super Bowl contender, comes to town with one of the top two run defenses in the NFL, and the Seahawks beat them by running the ball 42 times.

Consider for a second the quality, or lack thereof, of the nine wins the Seahawks collected in the two seasons prior to Carroll coming aboard. The Seahawks beat STL (2-14), @SF (7-9), @STL, NYJ (9-7) in 2008 (combined 20-44), and STL (1-15), JAX (7-9), DET (2-14), @STL, SF (8-8) in 2009 (combined 19-61). The three Seahawks victories this season have come against teams with a combined record of 15-12, two of which were division leaders heading into this week. Carroll, to be fair, has also been at the helm for some of the most dispiriting defeats. The losses to Cleveland and Cincinnati come to mind. I judge a young, rebuilding, team the way I judge a young player. The highs are more important than the lows because you want to find the ceiling. When they are good, how good are they? When they are bad, are the flaws systemic or addressable? Beating the Bears (2010 NFC Championship host), Saints (2009 SB Champs), Giants (had not won in NY since the 80s), and Ravens (three straight playoff appearances) while the cement is still wet on the new roster foundation bodes well. Being a team that could not run, protect the passer, throw down-field, or possess the ball to start the year that can now do all of those things against one of the NFL’s best defenses bodes really well.

The flaws that get people’s attention are things like penalties, red zone offense, and pass rush. Penalties can absolutely be addressed. The offensive line is at fault for many of the penalties, and is among the least experienced units on the team. Time will largely heal that wound. The secondary is physical and will continue to draw penalties, but should see a drop with more experience and more respect from the officials. Red zone offense is no sure bet to improve, and depends largely on the skill of the offensive coordinator and the talent at quarterback. Decisions must be made quickly and precision is key. Penalties don’t help there either. This offense continues to find its identity. A few weeks ago, Tarvaris Jackson was setting career highs for passing yards while everyone screamed for a running game. Seattle has now run for 281 yards on 72 carries for a 3.9 average against two top five rushing defenses the past two weeks. It will take time for Darrell Bevell and Tom Cable to mind-meld in order to create an approach that can be replicated week after week. The red zone offense will fluctuate as the team learns what plays and players it can rely on.

The pass rush is the most concerning area to watch. Seattle’s scheme is built to stop the run, which it does well, but that is having a direct impact on pressuring the passer. Many are focused on finding another great pass rushing defensive end to pair with Chris Clemons, but this team needs more than that. Pep Levingston was signed from the practice squad this week and got playing time yesterday because he can pressure up the middle. Alan Branch and Brandon Mebane have not been able to consistently collapse the pocket. Watch Levingston the rest of the year. Any signs of quarterback hits from him would be a very good sign. Also, keep an eye out for increased linebacker blitzes from players like Malcolm Smith (1 sack yesterday). Smith has elite speed and could be part of the answer.

A casual glance at the 323 total yards, 75 yards rushing, and 17 points for the Ravens would lead many to think this was a great day for the Seahawks defense. The reality is the defense was the least impressive of the Seahawks three units. The Ravens averaged over 6 yards per carry, making it five straight games that the Seahawks have allowed an increasing yards per carry. Even without the two 16-yard end arounds in the Ravens first series, Ray Rice and Ricky Williams combined to average 4.25 yards per carry. Ravens fans should be all over offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. He designed a game plan that featured 53 passes to only 12 rushes. Worse, the bulk of those passes were to running backs and tight ends for short gains. It was a Whitehurst-esque performance from Joe Flacco who ended with a paltry 4.9 yards per attempt and a 67.4 passer rating.

Some credit obviously goes to the young Seahawks cornerbacks and safeties who held the Ravens starting receivers to five receptions in 17 targets for 50 yards. Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner both turned in strong games yet again. Flacco, though, did not appear to be looking down-field that often. The plays looked like they were designed to go to the running backs and tight ends up the middle of the field. When Flacco did throw past 10 yards, he was horribly inaccurate. Ray Rice is unquestionably the Ravens best offensive player and he touched the ball 13 times yesterday. That’s inexcusable.

The offensive line, Marshawn Lynch and Bable (Bevell+Cable) deserve more credit for the low yardage total for the Ravens than the Seahawks defense. A season-high 35 minutes of possession limited the Ravens chances on offense. Seattle committed to the run for the second-straight week, with 42 rushing attempts versus 27 pass attempts. Last week was the first time the Seahawks had run as many times as they passed. The run-oriented attack Bable featured this week is what I expected to see going into a season that has a somewhat limited quarterback and challenges protecting the passer. The young line was not capable of sustaining a running game earlier, and the coaches only recently began to trust them enough to commit to it. Players like Max Unger, James Carpenter and Russell Okung are now jumping off the screen on some running plays.

Okung, in particular, is a guy who deserves some extra attention. He is finally playing at a level befitting a highly-drafted left tackle, both in pass protection and against the run. Unger had what might have been his best game of his career yesterday against a player many consider the best defensive tackle in the NFL in Haloti Ngata. Carpenter is starting to mash people. He has at least a couple of blocks every week that make you proud to be a Seahawks fan.

Carroll and John Schneider have built this team from the inside-out, focusing on the defensive and offensive lines. It has paid off in creating a roster that projects to be able to physically go toe-to-toe with any team in the NFL for many seasons to come. In some ways, the best Seattle football comparison to what Carroll is trying to build might be Don James’ Husky teams. Dominant line play on both sides of the ball with dynamic playmakers sprinkled on top, and a quarterback that can make the great play without needing to throw 40 times each game. That’s a formula Northwest fans love, and have rarely seen since the 90s around here.

A few quick hitters:

– Golden Tate continues to take advantage of every chance he is given. He finishes with three catches in three targets, and had two key receptions on the last drive that were every bit as important as anything Lynch did on that possession. Nicely done.

– Seattle’s 119 yards rushing was the 2nd-most surrendered by the Ravens this year. Lynch’s 109 yards rushing was the most any individual has managed against the Ravens this season.

– Tarvaris Jackson’s 88.0 passer rating was the 2nd-highest surrendered by the Ravens this year, second only to Matt Hasselbeck’s 95.1 in week 2. The Ravens ranked 2nd in the NFL in opposing QB rating heading into this game.

– Seattle yielded only one sack against the NFL’s 2nd-best pass rushing team.

– Jackson is averaging 7.94 yards per attempt since the Atlanta game. That would rank 7th in the NFL if he sustained it for a whole year. That would be higher than players like Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, Tony Romo and Michael Vick.

– The Ravens did not have a single play over 19 yards yesterday.

– Steven Hauschka is now 15-17 on the season, with one of those two misses being from 61-yards. Add him to the list of great pick-ups for cheap by Schneider and Carroll.

– The combined record of last three Seahawks opponents: 17-10. Combined record of next three: 8-19. Combined record of next four: 10-26

Beating the Ravens yesterday does not make the Seahawks a good team. It does go a long way toward discrediting the theory that the Seahawks are a bad team. Seattle is now 3-6 against nine opponents with a combined 0.598 winning percentage. They have been within one score of leading in the fourth quarter of every game outside of Pittsburgh. Bad teams don’t do things like that. If this rebuilding team can beat the Ravens and Giants while those teams are in their prime, it stands to reason they will be able to even more in the next 2-3 years as the roster matures. Wins like yesterday hasten the arrival of those better days.