♫ Jimmy Clausen’s coming to town! Jiiimy Clausen’s coming to town! Jimmy Clausen’s coming…to town. ♫
The Seahawks made sure everyone in Seattle was in a merry mood and put coal in a lot of Baltimore stockings as they continued their latest stretch of dominant play in the season’s final quarter. Russell Wilson was Santa, doling out touchdowns to all his good receivers. The defense reprised their role of Scrooge, stingy and stubborn. It is shaping up to be another Seahawks December to remember.
Historic play from Russell Wilson
Before I unleash the shock and awe campaign for how well Russell Wilson is playing, let’s get this level of competition thing out of the way.
Stop it. Just stop. “He’s doing this against weak defenses.” That is sort of true. He has played a couple middling pass defenses and a couple very bad ones. Guess what? There have been middling and very bad pass defenses every season in the NFL. When a player does something that has never been done before and that no other quarterback is doing against those same defenses, it is remarkable. Carson Palmer faced that same Vikings team Wilson did, except he played them at home. He finished with fewer touchdowns and a passer rating 30 points shy of Wilson. Palmer is an MVP candidate. Stop trying to put an asterisk on what Wilson is doing. Embrace and appreciate it.
Wilson is doing things that no quarterback has ever done:
Nobody has ever had a 145.9 rating over four games (158.3 is a perfect score)
Nobody has ever had a 138.5 rating or better in four straight games.
He is doing things that an elite few have done:
Only QBs besides Wilson to have 4+ TDs in three straight games are: Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Dan Marino, Steve Young, Len Dawson (all Hall of Famers)
Wilson is completing over 68% of his passes and averaging over 8.6 yards per throw on the year. Should he maintain that the rest of the year, he will join: Aaron Rodgers, Daunte Culpepper, Kurt Warner, Young, and Joe Montana as the only players to do that.
He is doing the unthinkable:
He is completing 79% of his passes, with 5 TD and 0 INT for a 3rd down passer rating over the past four games of 153.3. The next closest player is Cam Newton, 23 rating points behind.
He has a 132.4 rating in the red zone over that stretch, with 8 red zone passing touchdowns after throwing 3 red zone touchdowns in his first eight games of the year.
This could go on for a while. Sites like Pro-Football-Reference.com and ProFootballFocus.com are going to be getting a workout. Wilson now leads the NFL with a passer rating of 110.0. People want to talk about him as an MVP candidate, and that is fine, but the Seahawks team has underperformed and Wilson’s season has been unbalanced. We do not need external validation for how well Wilson is playing. The proof is in the record books and on the field.
Doug Baldwin leading dynamic receiver corps
Wilson has not missed a beat since Jimmy Graham was lost for the year. His group of receivers, led by Doug Baldwin, have provided him with ample targets to choose from. Even with an uncharacteristic drop against Baltimore, Baldwin finished with three more touchdowns, and now trails league leaders Allen Robinson and Tyler Eifert by one touchdown with three games to go. He already has set his career high in that category, and now in receiving yards as well (860).
Rookie Tyler Lockett followed up a career high receiving yards last week with a new career high this week, and his first 100 yard receiving game. He now leads all rookie receivers with 5 receiving touchdowns, and has a pair of return touchdowns as well.
Jermaine Kearse finished with his most receptions (7) since the season opener and most receiving yards (74) since week four.
Kearse made a number of tough catches in traffic. Lockett took another big hit and held onto the ball, and his faculties, again. It has almost been too easy for Baldwin. His third down conversions looked like carbon copies.
Defenses will start to adjust. Those adjustments will open up other routes and other opportunities. Playing offense is like any form of hand-to-hand combat. Balance is key. Seattle is playing so well through the air and with these route combinations that defenses are going to have to shift their attention there. Darrell Bevell and the Seahawks know this is coming and have a counter-punch waiting.
Wrecked about Rawls
Thomas Rawls was fast becoming one of my favorite players to watch. He appeared to be headed for another big day before he broke his ankle, meaning he will miss the rest of the year. His value was apparent as DuJuan Harris and Fred Jackson struggled to average 2 yards per carry after Rawls left with a 7.3 yards per carry average against the same defense.
The running game was more like a crawl the rest of the day, and included a fumble by Harris that accounted for the only empty trip to the red zone. This group will have to be reinforced this week. Likely candidates include Bryce Brown, who was on the roster a couple of times earlier this year, and Kendall Hunter, who was in for a tryout before. Christine Michael is available, but my guess is the team turned the page on him and does not want him back.
Marshawn Lynch appears to be healing well, but rushing him back would be a huge mistake. The team has enough to beat their next two opponents without Lynch, and his health could be the difference between just a spirited late season run and another Super Bowl appearance.
Derrick Coleman got a carry at the end of the game and burst through the hole for 19 yards. Do not be surprised if they turn to him this week. He was a running back in college, and they know he is tough since he has played fullback. He could be a Mike Anderson-like player for Tom Cable.
No matter the path Seattle chooses, it will be a shame to do it without Rawls. He has been one of the most dynamic offensive weapons in football when he has started. Even with the emergence of the passing game, the knee jerk reaction for Seahawks fans has to be that Wilson needs a strong running game to be productive. Truthfully, he has gone without that for two of the past four games (Baltimore and Pittsburgh), and been lights out.
It feels uncomfortable for scarred Seahawks fans to believe Wilson can carry an offense the way Rodgers or Manning or Brady can through the air, but that is exactly what he is proving he can do.
Don’t forget the defense
Remember the whole “best defense in history” thing the Seahawks have had going the past few years? It is easy to forget when the offense has been so glitzy. The defense has some glitz as well.
This was the fourth straight road game where the Seahawks defense has not allowed a TD. The only other team to do that was the 1976 “Steel Curtain” Steelers.
They are just 10 points behind the Broncos for fewest points allowed in the NFL, and currently rank third overall. They are second in yards allowed, second in opponent 3rd down conversion rate, second in opponent red zone scoring, and first in opponent touchdowns per game. They are holding opposing QBs to the lowest passer rating in the NFL over the past three weeks (64.5), tied for most interceptions in that span (6), and haven’t allowed a team to rush for more than 59 yards in the past four games.
The last time a team held consecutive road opponents to 31 yards rushing or less was in 1995, by a 49er defense led by defensive coordinator Pete Carroll.
There are no rose-colored glasses here. Clausen is a mess. He threw for far too many yards and had far too many explosive passes. DeShawn Shead was victimized on back-to-back plays, and Jeremy Lane failed to compete for the ball on a couple of throws. This secondary does not look like it will ever be a strength of the team this season.
That does not mean they are terrible, or cannot contribute to victory. Kris Richard needs to recognize that his pass defense needs help from the front seven to create pressure on the quarterback. This is not a group that can thrive on sitting back in coverage as they have in past years. Once Richard started bringing blitzes yesterday, the game changed for Baltimore.
Bobby Wagner and the linebackers had another nice game. It is great to see Wagner coming on strong to close the year. He can be a dynamic playmaker when he is playing with speed and confidence.
The Seahawks finished with only one sack, but don’t fret. The Ravens, even with their injuries, are one of the best pass protection teams in football.
The first half of the game against Baltimore was a great example of why level of competition can be blown way out of proportion. It was 7-3 until the very late stages of the first half. Everyone knows the Seahawks are a significantly better team than the Ravens. They still only were ahead by four points. Playing fantastic football in the NFL is difficult, regardless of which team is on the opposite side.
The Seahawks beat a bad Bears team at home earlier this season with Clausen at quarterback. They won that game 26-0, but that score included a Lockett kick return for touchdown and a Richard Sherman 64 yard trick play punt return that the offense turned into a 6 yard drive and field goal. Wilson was sacked four times. They were 0-2 in the red zone and 5-16 on 3rd down. Not all blowouts are alike. Not all achievements need to be qualified.
Seattle has established a level of play that is independent of their opponent. They are like a freight train at top speed. Put a car on the tracks in front of them, and they will plow through it like tissue paper. Facing a top defense will be like putting a bus in their path. They will slow, but there is no reason to think they will derail.
Plus, there is exactly one great defense in the NFC this year outside of Seattle, and the Seahawks likely won’t play them until the NFC Championship if the Panthers make it that far. No, I am not writing the Seahawks a ticket all the way through to the NFCC. I am just pointing out that before people assume these numbers are being compiled against weak defenses, they should realize there are not many great defenses to stand in their way.
Two home games will give the Seahawks a chance figure out how the offense will operate without Rawls, and hopefully, a chance for the defense to gain more momentum. This is a stretch of play that football historians will refer back to for generations. It is exceedingly difficult to appreciate those moments as they happen. Enjoy it. It may never happen again in your lifetime.