If prison movies have taught us anything about football, and of course they have, it is that the first thing you do when getting locked up is to find the toughest inmate and bloody his nose. Survival depends on respect. Respect is born of strength and toughness. Seattle is about to enter a maximum security cell block with twelve of the toughest, meanest hombres in the NFL. The door just clicked closed behind them, but not before they found the biggest dude in the waiting room and beat the daylights out of him. They stride into the playoffs, eyes fixed ahead, while every other team is left murmuring, wondering if they have what it takes to stand up to them. Twelve teams enter, one team leaves. Make sure your affairs are in order. The reckoning is coming, and it is wearing a Seahawks logo.
Hot knife, meet butter
Let’s take Kam Chancellor, Russell Okung, Marshawn Lynch, J.R. Sweezy and Luke Willson out of the lineup and replace them with Kelcie McCray, Alvin Bailey, Christine Michael, Mark Glowinski and Chase Coffman. Then let’s play a team that was the consensus top team in football, and still Super Bowl favorite, when they are almost completely healthy and have a chance at securing the top seed for the playoffs. For a last bit of fun, why don’t we play them while they are on a nine-game winning streak that includes a 38-8 smackdown of Aaron Rodgers last week while our team lost to Case Keenum at home. Perfect.
Put it all together, and you have the worst loss of the season by Arizona and worst home loss since losing 38-0 in 2003 to…the Seattle Seahawks. The win was powered by touchdowns for Bryce Brown, Will Tukuafu, and Chase Coffman. Just like everyone expected.
Let that sink in a bit. The Seahawks just thrashed arguably the best team in football on their home turf while featuring Brown, Tukuafu and Coffman and playing without five key starters. If that was done on Twitter, it would be considered trolling and be a prime candidate for being blocked.
Seattle is winning with system football. Plug and play. Denver famously could put any running back behind Alex Gibbs’ offensive lines and see them pile up a thousand yards. The Seahawks system is not zone blocking (well, part of it is). Their system is having the best coaching staff in the game at developing and teaching talent, the best front office in football, and a culture of energy, belief and toughness that is more genuine than anyone outside of Seattle can appreciate.
John Schneider and Pete Carroll made a bet that their core players were talented enough, and honorable enough to lead this team even after they got paid. They have more money tied up in their top players than any other franchise in football. They were forced to thin the roster to make room for these ballooning core salaries, and that formula has been severely tested this season. The players have risen to the occasion to close the year.
Young players have grown. Veterans have found their stride. It was a grand experiment, and the most fascinating part is that the team they have now is different than what they have had before. It is a new breed, led by a dynamic offense that features passing more than running, and a defense that is better at defending the run than the pass. Yet, it is still the best team in football.
Debate that point if you must, but every objective statistical ranking of NFL teams will come out this week showing Seattle as the best. Ask Arizona.
Cardinal fans, players and coaches will take turns minimizing what happened on Sunday. They will try to take responsibility for the result. The truth is they had no more control than a blade of grass facing a lawnmower.
Cardinals defense is overrated
I said it last week. I’ll say it again. Arizona will have to win the Super Bowl on the strength of their offense because that defense is not championship quality. They have faced a very limited number of top-tier offenses, and they have been unable to slow any of them. The Seahawks have now scored 32 and 36 points against them.
They continue to rely on aggressive pressure packages despite being one of the least effective pass rush teams in the league. That puts a tremendous amount of strain on their secondary, which is far less capable of holding up to that pressure with the loss of Tyrann Mathieu. They gamble. Good teams with good quarterbacks will make them pay.
Russell Wilson was in complete command on Sunday, despite playing without two of his starting lineman or his star running back.
Seattle was a missed 40-yard field goal and a missed extra point away from dropping a fortyburger on Arizona at home
Christine Michael played another nice game, which makes two-for-two when his line gives him any chance of success. Seeing him cover up on his long run to make sure he did not fumble had to make every Seahawks fan and coach smile. A talented kid growing up is par for the course in Carroll’s world.
Picking on the Cardinals defense can have the effect of minimizing what the Seahawks offense accomplished. It is not meant to. They have been performing at a level that is opponent-independent, as long as that opponent is not the Rams. Arizona, though, better hope that offense is firing on all cylinders if they want to experience postseason success.
The fantastic four
Most people probably chuckled when Chandler Catanzaro hit the upright with his field goal before halftime. Others were likely completely unaware that the Ravens scored a late touchdown against the Bengals. Then there were the precious few of us who were cheering like mad, knowing the opportunity remained for the Seahawks to do what no defense had ever done in the Super Bowl era, and that is to lead the NFL in scoring defense for four straight seasons.
The Cleveland Browns did it in the 50s, back when there were 12 teams in the NFL. That hardly counts. Rules have been written or rewritten to favor offenses. Quarterbacks are putting together the most prolific seasons in NFL history. Scoring has never been higher. This Seahawks defense remains in their way.
Seattle edge the Cincinnati Bengals by the slightest of margins (277 points allowed versus 279 points allowed). It is also the highest scoring average by a league leading defense (17.3 ppg). These are the times the Seahawks play in. Perhaps, most encouraging is just how stark the difference has been since Cary Williams was removed from the lineup.
Last 5 Games
Those “without Cary Williams” numbers include the 30 point, 538 yard game by the Steelers. That was the first full game with DeShawn Shead stepping in. People still questioned whether it was making a difference based on some of the poor quality opponents Seattle had faced during that time. Well, Carson Palmer finished with a rating of 60.3 yesterday and the best offense in the NFL was held to six points and 232 yards.
The 2013 squad featured a secondary and defense we may never witness again. Brandon Browner, Byron Maxwell, Walter Thurmond, Shead and Perish Cox all got time with that team at corner. Each player was a starter somewhere in the NFL this season. This defense still has the chance to outperform the 2014 Seahawks group.
Shead has been everything Seattle could have hoped for when they had nowhere else to turn. Jeremy Lane had a chance for two interceptions yesterday, and Marcus Burley is very solid option. Kelcie McCray has proven the defense can function and even thrive if Chancellor is injured, but imagine what happens if you add a healthy and rested Chancellor to this group. Richard Sherman is playing like himself, and looks locked in for the playoff run.
Watch out for the linebackers. They seem to be the bellwether. K.J. Wright, Bobby Wagner and Bruce Irvin were flying around yesterday like no other game since playing in Minnesota. Wright finished his terrific year by leading the team in tackles for the second straight season. Wagner is lurking, waiting for an impact game that feels imminent. Irvin is rushing the passer, dragging down runners and covering players 30 yards downfield.
The defensive line was fantastic yesterday, making the Cardinals offensive line look foolish on numerous occasions.
It feels like a defense playing their best football at the best time.
The road to glory
Seattle will have to win three games on the road to earn their third straight trip to the Super Bowl. The odds are against them, just the way they like it. This is a team that has won five straight on the road to close the season. They have led in the fourth quarter of every road game this year. They have won their last three road games by at least 29 points. The only other teams have a streak of road wins like that in a season were the 1984 San Francisco 49ers and the 1946 Cleveland Browns. Both teams won the championship.
The Seahawks are the best team in the NFL. They are the only team with a top five scoring offense (#4) and defense (#1). They have championship experience and are playing their best football right now. A team that just beat the Super Bowl favorite on the road by 30 points is now getting back five starters, including a beast in the backfield in what may be his final prowl. Nothing is guaranteed except for one thing: the Seahawks are coming to town, and they are bringing Hell with them.