The offensive line features three players who are major questions marks. They will face one of the most dominating defensive lineman on the planet. It is hard to fathom how the offense will be able to operate. Welcome to Houston, Texas circa 2013. Seattle enters the game with Paul McQuistan at left tackle, Lemuel Jeanpierre at center, and Michael Bowie at right tackle. J.J. Watt and his crew of wrecking balls enter the game 2-1 and have spent the week talking about having their best practices ever. A Seahawks line that had been giving up sacks on 10% of their pass plays before the injuries to the line faced what seemed to be an impossible task. It was. And then it wasn’t.
The game began almost opposite of expectations. Seattle took an early 3-0 lead after a long pass interference penalty on a pass intended for Sidney Rice. Marshawn Lynch broke off a 43-yard run on the next series, but the team could not extend that drive further. The defense, which needed to be fantastic for Seattle to have a shot, was getting spanked.
The Texans had to punt on their first possession, but then drove 60+ yards on four of their next five drives and scored 20 points in one quarter. The only drive they did not go 60+ yards was when the Seahawks fumbled at their own 20 yard line. It was ugly.
Texans players and fans were hooting and hollering. The mighty 3-0 Seahawks were getting exposed. Houston was not just winning. They were humiliating Seattle. The first half ended with the Seahawks trailing 20-3 and totalling just 85 yards of offense. Russell Wilson was 3-5 for 31 yards and had already been sacked twice. Twenty-four of those yards came on a pass to his running back. Golden Tate had the other two for a grand total of seven yards. Just before halftime, Michael Bennett was carted off the field with an apparent neck injury with his father watching from the stands. It was bleak.
Out of nowhere
The second half did not start much better. Wilson was sacked on the first play following halftime. J.R. Sweezy followed with a false start. Wilson was nearly sacked again, but scrambled for a yard. Houston had another decent drive, but had to punt.
Down 20-3, with just 4 minutes left in the third quarter, Seattle found a spark. Malcolm Smith knocked the ball out of Ben Tate’s hand and Bobby Wagner recovered. Wilson and the offense took over at the Texans 21-yard line. Incomplete pass. Incomplete pass. Incomplete pass. Field goal. Like so many other points in that game, it felt that was the end of Seattle’s hopes.
Houston did not do much on their next possession, but were able to down the punt at the Seahawks two yard line. Wilson managed to fumble and lose another yard. Seattle would need to go 99 yards for a touchdown on a day when their quarterback was 6-12 for 57 yards and had been sacked three times through three quarters. That is exactly what they did.
A magical 24 yard connection to Doug Baldwin along the sideline on 3rd and 7 from the Seahawks 5 yard line seemed to ignite the offense. Wilson ran for 25 yards himself on the next play. Then Lynch carried for 21 yards on the next two plays. Seattle was down to the Texans 25 yard line in a flash. More adversity struck as Jermaine Kearse was called for offensive pass interference. This drive would now have to cover a total of 109 yards. Wilson scrambled 13 yards on second down to setup a 3rd and 7. Another conversion to Baldwin gave the team a first down at the Texans 14 yard line. False start. Make that a 114 yard drive. Sack. Now a 121 yard drive. They just…kept…coming.
Wilson ran for 11 yards. Tate caught a pass for 10 on 3rd and 13, leaving Seattle with a 4th and 3 from the Texans 7 yard line. Wilson dropped back to pass, but could not find a receiver. He scrambled and somehow, someway, got four yards and a first down. Lynch scored on the next play.
There was no logic to the drive. The offensive line was still a mess. Watt, Whitney Merciless and company were still dominating. There had been no signs that this was about to happen. It was just an unbending will buried deep in the souls of those Seahawks players that refused to accept anything but seven points.
Odds got even longer
Believe it or not, the Seahawks win probability reached it’s lowest point after the team scored that touchdown. It came after the Texans stalled on their next drive, and then Wilson threw an interception at the Texans 45 yard line. Arian Foster ran four straight times for 17 yards to the Seattle 41 to set up a 3rd and 4. The Texans win probability at that point was 99.8%.
You know what happened next. Richard Sherman, with one shoe, picked off Matt Schaub and returned it for a game-tying touchdown. Seattle would go on to win in overtime, effectively ended the career of Schaub and the tenure of Gary Kubiak in Houston. If you want to have a little fun, re-read my Morning After article to get the feeling back from that day. It was the most improbable comeback in franchise history before the NFC Championship game last year.
What it all means this weekend in Cincy
This Seattle team is not that Seattle team. This Bengals team is not that Texans team. There are some lessons to be learned from that game that could apply to this one.
Going in, it would appear that the only way Seattle can win this game is if the defense smothers the Bengals offense. That was how it felt in Houston. It did not turn out that way. Sure, they eventually stopped the bleeding after allowing 20 points in the first half, but gave up 476 yards of offense. They were gouged on the ground for 151 yards, and Schaub threw for over 350 himself.
The Bengals are going to be hyped. Their stadium is sold out, which is a rarity. They may start fast. Something happens, though, when an offense suddenly cannot move the ball or end the game. We saw that firsthand this past Monday. The Seahawks defense almost certainly will give up more points than they have the past two weeks. What they need is to make Andy Dalton and Cincinnati uncomfortable. Make them doubt themselves. That is when good things happen.
On offense, the Seahawks are going to struggle. It is hard to see it any other way. That Bengals defensive front is just too good and too aggressive. That does not have to mean winning is impossible. Wilson was sacked five times in Houston, and the team had two turnovers. They totalled just 270 yards of offense. They rose up, though, and made their presence felt.
The Bengals gave up 386 yards passing to the Chiefs last week despite getting a boatload of sacks. They are not infallible. Seattle has been surprisingly efficient in their passing game despite the problems in pass protection.
It would be a mistake to point to one of the most improbable wins in team history and say, “Hey, do that again!” It would also be a mistake to write off this defense, this special teams, and the heart of these players on offense. Seattle will need special plays by special players to win on Sunday. They got one to end the game last week. Now it is time to take that show on the road.