The Morning After: Rawls and Lockett Shine, Seahawks Win 26-0

This has been a strange season. Seattle somehow managed to lose a game the first week then they forced three turnovers and had two touchdowns outside the offense. Then they lost by more points last week than they had in four years, but arguably showed more promise in that game then they did in winning 26-0 against the Bears at home. A Chicago team that came to CenturyLink Field with a game plan that resembled the fetal position, found its predictable end. Seattle is right to celebrate the first Seahawks victory of this season, but there is still a sizable gap between where this team is and where they need to be.

Close call

The ball came awkwardly off the foot of Bears punter Pat O’Donnell. It was his fourth kick on what would become a day when he would punt the ball more often (10) than the Bears would complete a pass (9). Seahawks wunderkind returner Tyler Lockett waved off his teammates as the ball fluttered into a group of blockers and then bounced toward the sideline where a Bears player downed it before stepping out of bounds. The score was just 3-0 in favor of the Seahawks at that point. Jimmy Clausen’s offense had outgained Russell Wilson’s offense 95 yards to 33 yards. 
Bears coach John Fox challenged the ruling on the field that the ball had gone untouched by a Seahawks player before it was recovered by Chicago. Everyone in the stadium groaned as the replay showed on the big screen and the trajectory of the ball appeared to change just as it went past the leg of a Seahawk. This was going to be Bears ball at the Seahawks 13 yard line, with at least a tie game in the near future. Only it wasn’t. Officials were not convinced by the video evidence and left the call as it had been. Seattle ball.
That was as close as the Bears got to scoring on a day when their offense was downright defensive. Chicago ran on 11 of their first 14 plays, and 21 of their 30 plays during an uncomfortable first half that saw Seattle only lead 6-0. They were so one-dimensional that after a disastrous first series where Clausen threw the ball twice and lose six yards, the Bears ran the ball on 16 of their next 17 plays. 
It worked far better than it ever should have. Matt Forte finished the half with 64 yards on 15 carries for a 4.3 average. The Bears totalled 87 yards rushing in the half. Brandon Mebane had gone down injured, but it was still troubling to watch considering everyone in the stadium knew what to expect. 
Lockett’s historic 105-yard second half kick return for a touchdown, which was the longest in team history, appeared to force the Bears out of their shell. They passed on three of their first four plays in the second half, including a their longest gain of the day, a 21-yard pass to Not That Zach Miller, on their first play. That would be their only first down of the second half.  The Seahawks defense stuffed the run from that point on, allowing just 11 yards on 6 carries for a 1.8 average per carry. 

Offensive line play remains uneven

Chicago entered the game with no sacks. The finished with four and had a whopping 10 hits on Wilson. The pass protection was abysmal. Wilson deserved some criticism in the first game for not getting rid of the ball faster. There were a couple of plays like that in this game, but the interior pass pressure was almost instantaneous on numerous occasions. 
J.R. Sweezy and Justin Britt both whiffed a few times, and Garry Gilliam had his worst pass protection day so far. It looked like the group had taken an important step forward last week pass blocking. They took at least that big of a step backwards against the Bears.
Things did improve slightly in the second half, helping Wilson to complete 11 of 16 passes for 140 yards and a touchdown. Seattle finished with more explosive pass plays (6) than in any other game this season. They added four explosive plays (12+ yards) running the football.
The line deserves credit for a job well done in run blocking. Drew Nowak, in particular, gets a tip of the cap for a bounce back game. This is a young line that has not experienced playing together very much. The ups and downs should be their greatest early in the season. The face players like Haloti Ngata next week and Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap the week after. Tom Cable has his work cut out for him.

I was wrong

Thomas Rawls is a better player than I gave him credit for. He looked like a fine backup running back, and an upgrade over Robert Turbin. The guy I saw on Sunday looked like someone who could be a feature back one day. 
His vision and ability to find a hole with powerful lateral cuts that covered 2-3 yards was impressive. He reminded me of Ray Rice as a running back. Powerfully built, with a low center of gravity, Rawls ran decisively and with a finishing ability that saw him gain plenty of yards after contact.
I take some solace in miscasting the youngster in hearing that Pete Carroll was similarly pleased to see more from Rawls than he had demonstrated in camp.
“Really didn’t get a good feel [for Rawls] in the preseason,” Carroll said after the game. “But today it was really evident that he could be a factor and help us out.”
The team has been smart with Rawls, putting the more complex protection work on the shoulders of veteran Fred Jackson, so he can just focus on running. It could have been an even better day for the rookie if he had held onto a swing pass earlier that had him all alone with plenty of open turf in front of him.
He wound up with 104 yards on 16 carries and a fantastic 6.5 yards per carry average. Consider that Eddie Lacy managed just 85 yards on 19 carries against this same Bears defense. I am left with memories of hard cuts and strong finishes. There were not a lot of yards left on the field. For the first time since the days of Justin Forsett, Seattle can probably afford to play without Marshawn Lynch if he needs another week to heal his hamstring and calf. 
This rookie class continues to evolve.

Receivers continue efficient play

Doug Baldwin caught all three passes thrown his way yesterday. He has now caught 17 of the 20 passes thrown his was so far this season. That kind of efficiency is catching on across the starters. Jermaine Kearse had 6 catches in 6 targets, and is now at 14 receptions in 18 targets on the year. Jimmy Graham had 7 catches in 8 targets yesterday, and matches Kearse with 14 catches in 18 chances this season.
If the offensive line can harness the work they did in the Packers game and the Seahawks coaches can call passes with confidence, this passing game could be the most improved part of this team by the end of the year. 

A step

It would be easy to revel in the shutout for a team and fanbase that has suffered through two losses to start the year. The play of Rawls and Graham merits celebration and kudos. The bar is high, though, for this franchise. This was about as underwhelming of a victory as a 26-0 game can be. 
Chicago resembled a toothless man bobbing for apples. Allowing them to score would have been embarrassing. Shutting them out feels like a job rightly done more than resounding achievement. 
The offense ran the ball with authority in the second half. That is something to build on. They managed ten explosive plays. They also scored just one offensive touchdown against a team that had allowed over 30 points in each of their first two home games. Not nearly good enough.
Nobody should ever apologize for winning a game in the NFL. The Seahawks did their job yesterday. Their goals simply require more than they demonstrated against Chicago. Their next opportunity arrives a week from today. 


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