The Morning After: Seahawks Lose To Cowboys, 23-13
Fans and media tend to talk about strengths and weaknesses of football teams as if they are etched in stone. Many had fallen in the trap of thinking the one thing this team could hang its hat on was run defense. The Cowboys rushed for 163 yards and a 5.6 average on Sunday, as hats everywhere fell to the floor. Make no mistake, run defense is the strongest part of this team. It is just unrealistic to expect any defense to endure the pounding that unit has taken. Only two teams (Colts, Browns) have had more rushing attempts against them in 2011, and only one defense (Colts) has been on the field for more time than the Seahawks. No other team in the NFL is in the Top 15 in rushing yard against while facing over 30 attempts per game. Forty-three minutes and 45 rushing attempts in the Browns game appeared to weaken the team, as the numbers against the Bengals hid one of the poorer performances the run defense had all season. This Cowboys game felt like one where the run defense could unravel, and unfortunately it was.
At least part of the problem with the run defense came from the pass defense uncharacteristically giving up big plays. Seattle surrendered four pass plays of 20+ yards after entering the game with only 19 given up all season, good for a Top 10 ranking in that category. Both Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman got beat up the sidelines. Sherman missed his jam completely at the line, and Browner got faked out on a double-move, but should have had help from Kam Chancellor over the top. The long passing plays early seemed to force Gus Bradley to play his safeties farther back. Chancellor was not as involved as normal on run defense, and when he was, it was a few yards beyond the line of scrimmage instead of right in the hole where we have seen him much of the year.
The burden of carrying the team all season is taking its toll on the defense. We may not see the same level of play from them the rest of the year, as wear, injuries, and lack of motivation will weaken it further. Don’t be surprised if the script now shifts to a stronger offense that suddenly can’t get a decent game from the defense. Young, developing teams tend to play well in shifts, rarely having each unit on the team combine for good performance at once. Then again, the Seahawks have played the toughest part of their schedule, so we may seem some false positives in the second half.
Seattle’s first eight opponents combined for a 39-26 record, good for a 0.600 winning percentage. Their second-half opponents sport a 27-35 record (0.435 %), and only a 21-33 record (0.389) after the Ravens game next week. A full 33% of those 21 wins comes from SF. The Seahawks very well could play worse in the second half of the season, but end up with a better record.
The offense could use some confidence after three weeks of frustrating games. This week saw the best rushing performance of the season, gaining 162 yards on 30 carries for a healthy 5.4 average. It wasn’t only the totals that were impressive, it was the way the coaching staff finally featured the running game. Seattle ended with an even 30/30 split in rush and pass attempts. There had been more rushing attempts than passes for much of the game until the team fell far behind. That was the blueprint I had expected to see heading into the season, but an under-performing line made that hard, and coaches had not shown the backbone to commit to it. There was a drive in the second quarter where the coaches called five straight running plays. It is hard to find examples of two straight run calls in the previous seven games. This line, this quarterback, this defense, needs that level of commitment and leadership from the coaching staff. It led to the Seahawks winning the time of possession for the first time all season. Let that sink in. Seattle cannot go 1-7 in the time of possession battle in the second half of the season if they want to win a few more games.
The offensive line played a nice game. Run blocking was good, and pass protection yielded only one sack, which came with under a minute left in the game. I will need to check the replay to see how many times extra men were kept in for protection. Judging by the amount of time Tarvaris Jackson had in the pocket, and the amount of time he was patting the ball trying to find a receiver, it appeared there were not many receivers out in routes. Also, Zach Miller had zero targets, which would indicate he was not out to catch passes much. Still, shutting out DeMarcus Ware was one of the most surprising outcomes of the game.
Jackson played his worst game as a Seahawks starter. He had a decent first half that saw him limit mistakes, although his tendency to lock onto Sidney Rice cost the Seahawks a touchdown right before half as Mike Williams was wide open. Two of Jackson’s three interceptions were unlucky. The one he threw off his back foot to Rice was inexcusable. He also held onto the ball for too long on the one that got tipped up and picked off that he was trying to throw into the ground. Call it an excuse if you like, but his pec injury seemed to be hurting him more this week than last. He was grabbing at it regularly and wincing. That doesn’t explain poor decisions, but ignoring it would be lazy and simplistic analysis.
A few quick hitters:
Anthony McCoy, who has become a whipping boy with his bevy of dropped passes, deserves a line of praise for making two catches and being a generally positive part of the game. He still has the talent to be a very good tight end if he can eliminate drops and false start penalties.
Marshawn Lynch gets a shout for playing with fire. This was the running back fans thought the Seahawks acquired from Buffalo. He hit defenders more than they hit him, including a brutal shot early that knocked the helmet off a Cowboy linebacker. His run against the Saints is his best play, but this was his best game in a Seahawks uniform.
It is time for Earl Thomas to step up. He is too talented to be making so few impact plays. Where is the guy that was all over the field in San Francisco and against Arizona? Where is the guy who picked up a bushel of passes in the first half of last season? Being a good starter is not acceptable for Thomas. His goal must be greatness, and he’s nowhere near it at the moment.
Many will talk about the bad in this game, and the hopelessness of the season. Believing in this team and the front office will be considered naive. Go back and check your predictions to start the season. Check what you were hoping to see in terms of development, and then compare it to where the Seahawks are so far. I had the Seahawks at 2-6, on their way to 4-12. I wanted to know if Brandon Browner, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas could rise up. I wanted to know if Russell Okung could stay on the field. I wanted to see the offensive line develop. These are things that are going to have a far larger impact on whether this team can become a Super Bowl contender than the team’s final 2011 record. Don’t turn your back on this team at a time when everyone will be taking pot shots. Look at them even closer than before. Arm yourself with facts, not ranting speculation. There are saplings taking root, growing a forest beyond the trees you see this year.