Anyone who has ever loved an aging relative suffering from Alzheimer’s understands how odd it feels to be looking at someone you know so well, but in the presence of someone completely unfamiliar. They look the same. Their voice is the same. Even the mannerisms are still there. But they are not themselves. You become accustomed to treating this person you love as a stranger. And then one day, you walk in the door and notice a glint has returned to their eye. They remember who they are. They remember who you are. It is a precious moment that you both realize is fleeting. It is a time to smile and savor. This Seahawks season has approximated this experience for both fans and players. For one glorious fall afternoon in Seattle, they remembered who they are.
Grit and determination returns
The most uncomfortable topic this season has been the missing intangibles for the Seahawks. A team that was defined by their insatiable hunger as much as by their immense talent has been lacking something almost indescribable. I wrote about it showing up in Earl Thomas during training camp. I wrote about it after the first preseason game against the Broncos. I could have written about it nearly every week, but how many different ways can you say something is missing without being able to pinpoint exactly what it is?
A wonderful trait of being human is that even if you cannot describe something with words, you can recognize it when you see it. The way the Seahawks played on Sunday was unlike any other game they have played this season. People point to the Green Bay game or the Denver game. No. This was different.
Seattle has fielded more talented teams this year than the one that took the field against Arizona, but none have played as cohesively, so completely, and with such determination. Any team in the NFL would have lost to the Seahawks yesterday. The one with the best record did, and it was never close.
All phases make their mark
Arizona took the opening kickoff and got smacked at the 10-yard line by Ricardo Lockette and others. Their first play from scrimmage was a four-yard loss after Kevin Williams blew through their line. Cliff Avril flew by the right tackle on the next two plays, and nearly had a sack before Earl Thomas flew through the air and batted down a third down pass. Tony Moeaki took Russell Wilson’s first pass for 17 yards as he barrelled through defenders. Bryan Walters took his second punt return back 21 yards, his longest return of the year, to setup the Seahawks next score.
Lockette had a 48-yard catch. Jon Ryan downed two punts inside the 20-yard line. The defense had 3 sacks and 8 quarterback hits. The offense rushed for more yards than any other team has managed against what may be the league’s best run defense. DeShawn Shead blocked a punt.
The 124 rushing yards by the Seahawks were the most by a Cardinals opponent this year
No player better represented the Seahawks complete effort than Cooper Helfet. The little-known tight end caught the game’s lone touchdown on a terrific effort play, made a terrific block to spring Wilson for one of his long runs, and body-slammed Rob Housler after he attempted to recover the blocked punt.
Seattle was everywhere. They so completely controlled the game that it was laughable to see Cardinals coach Bruce Arians talk about the blocked punt being “the turning point.” The turning point in this game was the kickoff.
One week after looking vulnerable, the Seahawks defense played its first flawless game of the year. Arizona does not feature a high-powered offense, but the Seahawks have made Austin Davis and Kirk Cousins look good at times this year. This was the first game where all three levels of the defense played at a high level.
Arizona is very good at protecting the passer. They entered the game among the top ten in the NFL in percentage of pass attempts resulting in sacks. Seattle’s much-maligned pass rush sacked Drew Stanton more times than all but one other defense this season.
The return of Bobby Wagner helped the linebackers tackle with precision, and take away a lot of the of the run-after-catch the Cardinals like to do with Andre Ellington.
And don’t look now, but the Legion of Boom might be re-staking their claim as the best secondary in football. After giving up a combined passer rating of 103.9 through their first six games, the Seahawks are at a dominant 70.5 in their last five games. You can point to level of competition, but remember that Davis was at 132.3 and even Rams punter Johnny Hekker was at 118.7. Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning had the lowest rating in that early stretch, both in the 80s.
Seattle is back to dominating opposing quarterbacks with a combined 70.5 passer rating over the last five games
There are plenty of numbers to flaunt, but the most important thing was to see the two best safeties in football playing like themselves. Thomas was flying around. Kam Chancellor was stuffing the run and tackling with impunity. There was a third down for Arizona in the third quarter where they needed just two yards for a new set of downs. They swung the ball wide to Ellington, who appeared to be all alone. A flash of green and blue in a #29 jersey blurred across the field and tackled Ellington short of the line to gain. Seattle would take the ensuing punt and drive 75 yards for the games only touchdown.
The Seahawks defense has reclaimed the #1 spot in the NFL in yards allowed (296.8), and have allowed just 265.5 in their last six games
Arizona had just one play on the Seattle half of the field in the second half, and just 204 yards of total offense. Take away two amazing toe-tapping catches by John Brown in the second half, and the Cardinals offense managed just 39 yards and 2.8 yards per play after halftime.
Many will chalk it up to the Cardinals playing without Larry Fitzgerald. Let them. Fitzgerald has averaged 2.5 catches and 25 yards receiving per game against the Seahawks since 2012. His presence would not have changed the outcome.
Just enough offense
The Seahawks offense is probably not going to be a thing of beauty anytime soon. The offensive line battled like crazy against an immensely talented Cardinals defensive front without James Carpenter or Max Unger. They were overwhelmed at times, and had a predictably tough time running the ball.
The seven sacks given up were easily a season-high, although at least three of them were directly attributable to Wilson either scrambling into danger, holding onto the ball too long, or intentionally going down to keep the clock running instead of throwing it away. It is important that Lemuel Jeanpierre earns his way back into the game as early as this week, and it would be a boon to get Carpenter back as well.
Even as constituted, the Seahawks offense can win games if their defense and special teams play good football. Seattle showed more willingness to throw down field in this game than they have most of the season. Lockette had the 48-yard catch, and Kevin Norwood was in position to make a big play on the flea-flicker if not for a terrific breakup by Patrick Peterson. Wilson has a knack for throwing very catchable deep passes, and the Seahawks need to be disciplined about taking their shots.
Six of the Seahawks seventeen completions to tight ends. Moeaki now has caught each of his first five targets, and is looking like a very fortunate pick-up after losing Zach Miller for the season. That group of Moeaki, Luke Willson and Helfet will be important parts of helping this offense perform down the stretch.
Making it last
I wrote last week about how this season did not feel comparable to the 2012 campaign when the Seahawks dropped to 6-5 after a loss to Miami, before finding themselves in a win over Chicago and running the table the rest of the year. That streak included signature wins like a 58-0 stomping of the Cardinals, a 50-17 romp over the Bills and that savory 42-13 win over the 49ers. They did not win the Super Bowl that year, but the chemistry that fueled the eventual champions was found during that run.
This Seahawks team is not as talented as either the 2013 or 2012 squad. Great players have left via free agency, been traded away, or lost to injury. The team with the best record in the NFL entered Seattle yesterday with a chance to deal a fatal blow to the Seahawks playoff chances. They were sent home with not just a loss, but with doubts about who the best team in the division truly is.
The NFL schedulers have done few favors to the Seahawks this year. But this stretch of two division games in five days feels like exactly what the team needs if they are to rekindle the magic and swagger they seek. There was plenty of talk about the players meeting this week and the result was as clear as the Olympics on a crisp fall afternoon. Sustaining that connectedness through a Thanksgiving day game against their biggest rival would re-open doors that felt closed just a few days ago.
The champs are punching their way out of the corner, and I’m on the edge of my seat waiting to see what happens next.