No Excuses Sunday

Seattle was a 4-4 team through their first eight games. They won games they could have lost, and lost games they should have won. Early on, the defense dominated while the young quarterback struggled. More recently, the offense has put up points while the defense has taken a step back. Receivers dropped some balls in San Francisco. Special teams gave up a touchdown in St. Louis. Seattle’s only two-game win streak was immediately followed by a two-game losing streak. A very familiar script for the game this Sunday against the NY Jets would be for Seattle to take a frustrating loss against an inferior team. There can be no excuses this weekend. The Seahawks must play like champions.

Pete Carroll’s coaching philosophy stresses bringing the same energy and focus each and every week. The team did not meet that lofty goal in three of their four losses this year. The defense struggled in the first half of the season opener, before waking up in the second half. All three phases of the game fell short in St. Louis after a promising opening drive touchdown. Detroit was misleading 2-4 when Seattle rolled into town, after having faced their arch rival, San Francisco, and New England a few days earlier. The psychology of that match-up was going to be tough from the get-go. Now, Seattle enters this Sunday’s game undefeated in four home games, facing a 3-5 Jets team.

The Jets are 29th in the NFL in rushing yards. They struggle on offense and on defense. Things should come easy to the Seahawks on Sunday, right? Well, the Jets may allow 141.1 yards per game on the ground for 2012, but they are allowing 89.7 in their last three games. The improvement is not limited to that stat. They are scoring more than their season average, allowing less, gaining more yards, allowing less, scoring better in the red zone, and allowing fewer red zone touchdowns.

Two of those three games were losses, but both of those opponents (NE, MIA) are likely playoff teams. Rex Ryan is a blowhard, but he is also a creative defensive mind who runs a 4-6 scheme that Russell Wilson likely has not faced before. In many ways, this game feels like the season opener against Arizona. Most people expect Seattle to win, but there is an exotic opposing defense that can make life difficult if the team is not on their game. The Jets offense features less weapons than that Cardinals offense, and is playing in Seattle. Allowing New York to score more than 10 points would be a sign that the team did not take them seriously enough.

Keep in mind that the Jets are coming off a bye week where they had plenty of time to self-scout and to devise a game plan to confuse a rookie quarterback. Cornerbacks like Antonio Cromartie like to break convention and be in places they should not be when they smell a play can be made. Wilson cannot assume anything in this game. His success will likely be over the middle.

None of these things mean the Jets are the better team, or that they should win. They represent a real threat to Seattle’s goals for this season, and should be treated with the respect a person would treat a cobra. Be aware of the danger they represent. Use your superior intellect and tools to deal with the threat, and then continue on your way.

This game will be the best test for Wilson and the offense at home since facing Green Bay. Two touchdowns should do the trick, with a field goal or two mixed in. Third down play and red zone efficiency will be paramount again. If Seattle’s offense does not turn the ball over, they will not lose to this team. The Jets only chance in this game is to get a short field or two. They know that, and will bring out all the stops to get the ball. Wilson can take his next step in development by anticipating and defusing those traps.

Tim Tebow could be a larger part of the offense this week. He might not. The defense could find itself throttling all conventional weapons for New York, only to give up chunks of yards to school yard scrambles. Excuses will not cut it. They must force the Jets into submission, and hold them there until the match is over. Dominate. Do it with a relentless pass rush, a suffocating rush defense and a taste for turnovers.

With all apologies to Cromartie, the Jets are not a playoff team. They do not know it yet, but they are already playing the role of spoiler. The Seahawks have no more mulligans, and must play this game with the focus and energy they demonstrated against Green Bay and New England. The game won’t be close if they do.