The Morning After: Seahawks Defense Finds A Way, Beat Lions 13-10

Rocky was never a particularly skilled fighter. He defended punches with his face as often as he did with his hands or with movement. It was almost gruesome to watch as he absorbed hit after hit and his face became battered and swollen from impact. It took a lot, however, to knock the champ to the ground. There were two things you could count on when he fell—he was going to get up, and he was going to come out swinging once he steadied himself. The Seahawks did a terrific Rocky impersonation last night as the offense took the punches, and the defense delivered them. Mere inches from seeing their season effectively knocked out, it was the man they call Kam who delivered the final haymaker. Bloodied, dizzied, resolute, the champ marches on.

First close win

Pete Carroll will not point to a fourth quarter where the Seahawks were outscored 7-0 as a prime example of finishing, but he will point to Kam Chancellor’s final miraculous play. Say what you will about every other aspect of this game, but this was the first time this year that the Seahawks made the plays needed to win in the end.

They gave away the game in St. Louis. They surrendered the lead in Green Bay. This team, built on defense, made the final stand when they needed to and resuscitated a season that was flatlining. Detroit had just 167 yards of offense before that final drive went 89 of the needed 90 yards. They spent the night firing quick, short passes, that kept the Seahawks pass rush at bay, but to little result.

They had two drives over over 20 yards before that final drive. They were 3-13 on third downs. Seattle had them on a tight leash, yanking them back within arm’s reach whenever they saw fit. The game needed just one customary Matthew Stafford turnover to break it open, but to his credit, it never came. To the Seahawks credit, they held the Lions to three points on offense despite having zero sacks, zero takeaways, and just two tackles for loss. That is a special kind of discipline and skill.

K.J. Wright as batman

Seeing as all anyone wants to talk about is K.J. Wright playing the role of the dark night and illegally batting the ball out of the endzone on the pivotal play, I’m going to play The Riddler for a moment. What is silver and blue and has no chance in hell at making the playoffs, let alone winning a Super Bowl this year? The Lions. Very good! Let’s try another.

What is the most pitiful reaction to a loss where your team fumbled the ball at the 1-yard line? Did you say, complaining that the officials didn’t bail you out by making an obscure call that had absolutely nothing to do with the skill or quality of either team? Yes? You are good at this!

The game was decided on a football play by a terrific football player. The better team won. That aftermath of the game was full of people calling for justice. Seattle winning the way it did feels a lot more like justice than if Detroit had won on a technicality.

I fell for the Lions and their fans, but not because of the no-call. I feel for them because their team fought valiantly and their hero made a crucial mistake at a crucial moment. No official is going to turn their season around. They are going to have to do that themselves.

The toughest question to ask

This defense is playing as well as any in the NFL right now. The special teams are the best in the league. Seattle benefitted from a fantastic clutch play by their leader and an official’s decision last night to even their record at 2-2. Does any of it matter?
That may sound like an overly bleak question, but it is absolutely a fair one given the state of this offensive line. The TV parental guidelines association may soon decide Seahawks games are unfit for children given the extreme violence and disturbing imagery.
The combination of this offensive line and Russell Wilson has been like sardines and fruit loops, nauseating and confusing. Seattle gave up six sacks for the second time in four games. The last time they gave up 6+ sacks twice in one season was 2006. This is bad. Really, really bad.
The question is whether it is hopeless. The line does not need to become the 2005 group, and Wilson does not need to reach the Peyton Manning or Tom Brady level of decisiveness for Seattle to contend. The line needs to be able to run against eight-man fronts. They need to be able to make whiffing on blocks the exception more than the rule. Wilson needs to throw to his primary receiver on time when they are open, and he needs to rediscover the throw away from the pocket.
A hidden challenge here is the line calls. The single biggest difference Carroll and Wilson discussed when Max Unger returned from injury last year was that he took back all the line calls so Wilson could focus on executing the play. It is impossible for any of us to know how much these pass protection issues are being caused by miscommunication between Wilson and Drew Nowak or misreads by those two. 
It still feels like a rare occurrence when Wilson appears to correctly identify the blitzer and his hot read and gets rid of the ball before the pressure can arrive. He is smart, talented and a hard worker. One has to wonder if the Seahawks are giving him the type of coaching he needs to realize his full potential. It sure would be nice if they asked Mike Holmgren to come on a special advisor. There are not many quarterback whisperers in the NFL. Seattle has one sitting next door.
Even if Wilson makes the strides he needs to make, this line is nowhere close to good enough for it to matter. This is not like 2013 when the team could expect Breno Giacomini and Russell Okung to return from injury, or last year when Unger was coming back. Nobody is hurt. They are just a mess. 
It is possible they could improve. They should improve. The amount of improvement they need to make a championship a realistic goal is so big, it is not really worth talking about. You can bet Seahawks coaches are breaking it down into bite-sized increments and hoping the players eventually grow exponentially. 
Don’t be surprised if John Schneider makes a move to bolster the line. They have draft picks next year, and a real need this year. The Texans are sitting at 1-3 and have two guards in Duane Brown and Brandon Brooks who know zone blocking and could help out right away. Philadelphia is 1-3 and has a struggling center in Jason Kelce who has been a Pro Bowler before. 
Carroll and Schneider have a history of assessing every avenue they can to improve their team. When they identify a problem area, they attack it. If Carroll walks into Schneider’s office today and says he needs help, Schneider will unleash the hounds of hell to sniff out any option. 
Truthfully, I do not have a lot of confidence that this line can improve enough to allow the Seahawks to seriously compete for the ring without some help. Consider that two of the worst pass rushing teams in the NFL just posted 10 sacks in two weeks against the Seahawks while playing in Seattle. Imagine them standing up the Bengals line on the road next week or the Broncos line with a Super Bowl on the line. On second thought, maybe it is better to avoid thinking about that. Picture a Rocky montage where Tom Cable is doing his best Burgess Meredith impression and the line is improving by leaps and bounds. Imagine that.

Getting stronger

As dreadful as the offensive line was, the defense appears to be back. For the first time this season, we can say the Seahawks defense looked like a group that could challenge for the top spot in the league for a fourth straight year.
They are second in yards allowed, tied for third in points allowed, and holding opponents to fewer first downs than any team in football. Everything appears to be fitting together nicely on that side of the ball. Sacks and turnovers have been a little harder to come by, but teams are struggling to move the ball against them, and they have greatly improved their red zone defense.
The last three games, including Green Bay, opponents have only managed to score one redzone touchdown. Seattle has now gone two straight games without allowing an offensive score. No other defense in the NFL has more than one such game this year. 
Special teams continues to be terrific, even with the unfortunate Tyler Lockett fumble last night. It is miraculous that this team should really be 3-1 this year, and had every chance to beat the Packers in Green Bay. As bad as the line play has been, they are still a force to be reckoned with. 
They head to Cincinnati next week facing long odds. Those tend to be the situations where they thrive. It is going to be an incredibly rocky road as the Seahawks try to recapture the crown that was once theirs. They have a puncher’s chance.

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