The Morning After: Seahawks Lose 23-20 to Cardinals

That was weird. Some fans wanted a win, others wanted a loss. Some players were fiery, some were going through the motions. Call it the Indifference Bowl. Neither team was playing a meaningful game for the first time this season, and it showed. Execution regressed. Effort was less. It was the game embodiment of a shoulder shrug. That’s not to say players intentionally eased off the accelerator. Anyone who has played a competitive sport knows that there is simply a different level of intensity when something is on the line.

Seattle had plenty of chances to win this game. K.J. Wright got tackled by an offensive lineman on what should have been a fumble returned for a touchdown. Richard Sherman got caught on an interception return that should have been a touchdown. Marshawn Lynch inexplicably became an afterthought for three plays when the team had 1st and Goal before the team got a field goal blocked. These are the kinds of errors that are explained away as a young team learning in 2011 that will not be tolerated in 2012. That, more than anything else, will be outcome of this season. Nobody will be predicting 4-12 for this team next season. Nobody will pleased with another mediocre record. As much as this team progressed this season, and it progressed significantly, it still ended the season losing more than it won.

The primary focus of most Seahawks fans is what the team will do in the upcoming off-season at the quarterback position. Less obvious is the team’s growing problem stopping the run. None of the Seahawks first seven opponents averaged more than 3.5 yards per carry. Eight of the last nine opponents averaged at least 3.7 yards per carry. Six of the last nine averaged over 4.2. That’s going from a Top 3 rush defense to a Bottom 15 rush defense, and it’s not acceptable given the type of defense the team is playing and the sacrifices they make on pass rush to play this sort of defense.

There will be time to break that down in more detail over the next four months. Four pivotal months. It is safe to say this team’s ceiling will be set this off-season, and the Seahawks helped themselves by securing no lower than the #12 pick in the upcoming draft. It is anybody’s guess how that pick will be used, but there is little doubt it is a valuable spot to be. Many great players are picked right outside the Top 10. Players like Earl Thomas (#14), Patrick Willis (#11), Ben Roethlisberger (#11), and more.

The best news about the game yesterday was that there were no serious injuries. I have stayed silent on Red Bryant’s health all year, but seeing him finish a full 16-game season for the first time is big, like Red Bryant big.  Robert Gallery came to the team with a reputation as being oft-injured, and then missed the first few weeks of the season to fan the flame. He played in every game thereafter. Max Unger played his first full season at center. Earl Thomas came into the league with concerns about his size and durability, but has yet to miss a game.

Arizona will exit this season ahead of Seattle in the standings. They still have some short-term potential, but their ceiling is already established with their quarterback situation, and it’s not great. One reaction to watching Larry Fitzgerald yesterday would be that they can be a great team. The other reaction, my reaction, is how bad is Kevin Kolb to struggle to play quarterback with a receiver like Fitzgerald on his squad? John Skelton is a terrible quarterback. Fitzgerald accounted for 150 of Skelton’s 271 yards passing, and roughly 60-80 of those yards were on bad throws that only Fitzgerald could catch. Skelton ran up to Fitzgerald after his last spectacular grab of a shitty throw and looked like a starry-eyed groupie, “You’re soooo good, Larry! I loooove you! Can I get an autograph?” Tearing down the Cardinals too much after a loss can come across as sour grapes, so I made sure to tear them down beforehand.

Analyzing the details of the game feels like wasted keystrokes. One continuing story line to monitor is the coaching staff decisions about when to run and when to pass. The team ended up with 178 yards rushing, which was a season-high, but curiously went away from the run on a number of key occasions. The last of which was a 3rd and 3 in regulation when they even motioned Lynch out of the back-field to take away any threat of the run. On one hand, this could be simply a failing in Tarvaris Jackson’s ability to execute in situations the offense demands it. On the other hand, there is an apparent blindness–or unwillingness–to understand Jackson’s limitations and stick with the run when it is working. The Seahawks could have easily eclipsed 200 yards rushing yesterday.

The number of deep throws made it clear the staff saw a weakness they wanted to exploit. Ben Obomanu dropped one that should have been a touchdown early in the game (part of a terrible day for the normally dependable wideout). Richardo Lockette made a great play on another that became the Seahawks longest play of the season. That’s the thing, though, with deep passes. High risk, high reward is not what this team is made to do.

No part of the team may have further to grow than the offensive playcalling. Bubble screens, odd substitutions of Justin Forsett, total lack of involvement for Zach Miller all need to change. The coaching staff will benefit from a normal off-season as much, or more, than the players.

A couple quick parting notes:

– One remarkable streak continued yesterday when Skelton’s passer rating ebbed and flowed past the magical 72.0 mark. Seattle has not beat a team all season when the opposing quarterback posted a passer rating over that mark. Think about that. That’s like Rex Grossman, Tim Tebow level of quarterback play. The great part is that the team has held seven quarterback below that level. Skelton was well above that for most of the game, but dropped to 75.1 on Sherman’s pick, and got as low as the mid-60s before the end of regulation. But, by the time the field goal was kicked, he was back to 74.1. Fascinating for a geek like me.

– Another remarkable streak was at risk as well, but withstood the challenge. Seattle is undefeated under Pete Carroll when winning the time of possession battle (9-0 through two years). The Seahawks were dominating time of possession for almost the entire game, and ended regulation with an advantage of over three minutes. The Cardinals final drive gave them a 35-33 advantage. 

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