The Morning After: Seahawks On a New Level, Beat Jets 27-17
Passion permeates young love. It is fresh and exciting. Everything you do together is a first. That kind of love has a shelf life. You can only have one first date, one first kiss, one bended knee with ring in hand. Staying in love requires something different than falling in love. Passion must become admiration, respect, and a familiarity that feels like home. It is the difference between a soothing warmth and an explosive fire. Finding a love that can last is one of humanity’s rarest treasures. The Seahawks story has followed a similar arc. They burst on the scene with massive chips on their shoulders and a bevy of young talent itching to prove their worth to the world. Then, it happened. Once feted, the passion that fueled their rise had to be augmented with something more lasting. The last two seasons have been a fight to find their footing. Each year saw the team pushed all the way to the edge before punching their way out of the corner. This year is different. Bombastic baiting and boasting in the media has been replaced with a slow-burning certainty that they are the best. The people they are trying to prove themselves to are in that locker room, not the world outside it. More than anything the team has done on the field, fans should be excited—and opponents should be worried—that the Seahawks have found a new source of fuel that is plentiful and renewable. This season will be a slow rise to a crescendo, built on top of stability, respect, and certainty. We are all witness.
Jets become a mere speed bump
This should have been a difficult game. The Jets came in desperate for a win after dropping two of their first three and facing a gauntlet after this game. Further, they were humiliated on the road last week and had every reason to be their very best in game preparation to bounce back. The strength of their team was a monstrous defensive line that excelled at stopping the run, and the thinking went that Seattle needed their run game now more than ever with injuries to Russell Wilson, Tyler Lockett and others. So much for thinking.
New York started with a methodical first drive that looked exactly what one might have expected from a team in their situation. It resulted in three points after a fumble was ruled an incomplete pass, becoming the first of a number of crucial calls that went against the Seahawks. That was about as far as the script went. Then, the Seahawks started to pen their version of the story. The foreword was a ridiculous one-handed, twisting grab by suddenly dominant Jimmy Graham. It ended when Wilson held onto the ball a bit too long and took a sack that essentially ended the drive. He would not be sacked again until there were just five minutes left in the game.
Seattle started their next drive at their own 8-yard line. Their first play was a run that resulted in a loss of a yard. Ninety-three yards now stretched in front of them. The ferocious and frenzied Jets defense stood in their way. What followed was as stunning and rare as Cam Newton humility. The Seahawks did not just march down the field and score a touchdown to take the lead. They never faced a third down. Not only that, but when you account for the loss of a yard on the first play and the five yard penalty for false start later in the series, the offense technically had to cover 98 yards, and they did it in five plays.
The defense, sensing the shift, did their part with a quick snuffing out of a Jets series. New York once again pinned Seattle deep in their own territory. No matter. Darrell Bevell dialed up a beautiful new play to kick things off that saw Doug Baldwin go in motion into the Seahawks backfield and then continue his motion after the snap to the flat in what looked like a screen play. Instead, Wilson dropped the ball to a wide open Graham who was streaking up the left seam for 20 yards. Babies were crying somewhere because their candy had just been stolen. Too easy.
That play was a perfect encapsulation of where this Seahawks offense is with the emergence of Graham. Bevell is learning how best to use him, and defenses are flummoxed trying to anticipate what might come next.
Germain Ifedi got his first start and had some ups and downs. One of the downs was a false start on this drive. What had been an 85 yard drive, now was a 90 yard journey. No matter. Christine Michael ran up the middle for 9 yards on 2nd and 11 to setup a 3rd and 2. The Seahawks had trouble running against the Jets all day. Bevell could have easily justified a pass play in that situation. He chose a run play instead, and I loved it. In a critical moment against a terrific run defense, he told his players to get two yards. They got four. Now, with a fresh set of downs, the ever-improving Russell Wilson took over.
New York sent pressure, and it looked as though Wilson may be in trouble from a rusher coming around the right edge. A younger Wilson might have tried to spin out of the way and either done something terrific or run into a drive-crippling sack. This Wilson stepped up calmly in the pocket, gaining plenty of time to find an embarrassingly open Tanner McEvoy for a 42 yard touchdown. The throw was subtly super. We have seen many a quarterback overthrow a wide open player in that situation. Wilson put plenty of air under the ball so there was no doubt McEvoy would be able to run under it. For pure comic indulgence, the Jets safety tripped and fell twenty yards from the play as if their humiliation needed some sort of punctuation mark.
The story of this game was supposed to be that the Seahawks defense needed to hold down the Jets offense and create short fields for the Seahawks offense. Graham, Wilson, and the Seahawks offensive line flushed that script like it was a Rob Schneider movie. They took control of this game with two drives that went the full length of the field and faced just one third down along the way.
Richard Sherman shows his mettle
It has been almost two years since Richard Sherman had two interceptions in a game. He had two picks all of last year. Ryan Fitzpatrick fell into the trap of thinking he had solved the puzzle that Sherman poses. A Harvard education should have taught you better than that, Mr. Fitzpatrick.
Brandon Marshall got the best of Sherman on a few plays in the first half, including the first passing touchdown surrendered by the Seahawks this season just before the half ended. Sherman bottled him up in the second half before an excruciatingly bad defensive-pass-interference-that-should-have-been-offensive-pass-interference call gave the Jets life. They had faced a 2nd and 16 on their own 30, that should have turned into a 2nd and 26 on their own 20. Instead, they had a 1st and 10 on their 47-yard line, trailing by just a touchdown.
Fitzpatrick clearly was having fun poking the bull and went right back to the well on the next play. Sherman gave him the horns. His interception keyed the Seahawks ensuing touchdown drive that put the game out of reach.
Sherman has to endure numbingly long stretches where teams do not throw his way. These stretches can last whole games and sometimes most of a whole season, as was the case last year. Through it all, he must stay sharp and at the ready. This was the first time in a long time that he was truly challenged. Like so many times before, he answered the bell.
The schedule turns now, with the Seahawks facing a number of top-flight offenses instead of imposing defensive lines. Sherman will be tested by the likes of Julio Jones and John Brown and others. This game felt like the lion was awakened. With Deshawn Shead and Jeremy Lane playing solid corner beside him, Sherman may be set to see his most action since the Super Bowl run. That usually spells good things for the Seahawks and bad things for quarterbacks.
Offensive line deserves praise
This makes the third straight week I have been beating this drum. You may grow weary of it, but it is a narrative that far too many people have gotten wrong. If you were setting the bar at the Dallas Cowboys offensive line, your expectations were completely out of whack. Were you also expecting Shead to be the next Sherman? The goal for this line was to be great at run blocking and solid in pass blocking. Moreso, it was to be able to face physically imposing defensive lines and not wilt like what we saw last year.
Through four games this year, while facing some of the best defensive lines in football, and without their first round pick for three of those games, the Seahawks rank 15th in the NFL in opponent sack rate at 5.9%. Their opponent sack rate through four games last year was 12.4%. They have surrendered half as many sacks through four games this year (9) as they did last year (18).
Even ProFootballFocus.com is being forced to give them a little love. Justin Britt was credited with no sacks, pressures or hurries yesterday against the Pro Bowl-laden Jets line. Mark Glowinski had some key blocks. Do they still get beat? Of course. Do they get dominated to the point of crippling the offense? No.
You can point at the Rams game all you want, but that game had just as much to do with a hobbled Wilson and Bevell’s unwillingness to utilize Graham and Michael as anything to do with the line. They gave up two sacks in that game. It was the best pass protection they had against the Rams since Jeff Fisher arrived.
And they can get better. They should get better. Ifedi just started his first game. Glowinski and Britt are getting their first few starts under their belts at these positions. Bradley Sowell is not perfect. Neither is Garry Gilliam. Do not be surprised if George Fant or even J’Marcus Webb is given the chance to push both of those guys. There is upside to be had here.
The running game has been a mess. I have a really hard time worrying about Tom Cable’s ability to coax a strong rushing attack out of any line he is given. Consider what happened when they faced their softest defensive line in the first four games against the 49ers. They have some considerably easier defenses coming up. They will improve in the run game, which will help their pass protection even more. This line has a chance to be a team strength by the end of the season. Align yourself against them if you must, but you will be missing a terrific story.
Injury narrative needs to be broadened
What Wilson has done the last three weeks with the injuries he is dealing with is deserving of every adjective being thrown his way. It is miraculous, courageous, remarkable, inspiring, and more. The coverage, though, has been flawed in that it has focused completely on Wilson. This is a Seahawks story, not a Wilson story. Wilson is playing through injury. Tyler Lockett is playing with an equally large brace on what has been reported to be a PCL tear in his knee. Jimmy Graham is fighting his way back from an injury that sidelines others for multiple years. Doug Baldwin is playing through a sprained knee of his own.
There is courage throughout this roster. Wilson is getting the lion’s share of the recognition through no fault of his own. The media and fans should do a better job of broadening that recognition and praise.
Growing into something special
The Seahawks have started slow the past two seasons. The 3-1 record they enjoy heading in their bye week feels well earned and a step toward something better. The 2014 Seahawks were 3-1 as well, but they were dealing with the infighting of Percy Harvin and felt thin at so many positions. This group not only feels deeper, but they are more grounded and focused on the task at hand. Sherman did not taunt his opponent when he made his plays. He turned to his brothers on the sideline and screamed, as if to say, “This is who we are!” There are no holdouts or distractions. There are no glaring weaknesses that will take a half season to buttress.
This team has proven it can attack you with the deep ball, the seam pass, the screen game, the rhythm throws and the unscripted genius plays. They have proven they can suffocate the run and the pass. Their coverage on both corners and the slot is excellent. Their pass rush is the best it has been in years, and may wind up being the best of the Pete Carroll era in Seattle. Special teams has been good, and will get better as Lockett heals and the young players learn their roles. The only thing you can pick on is the run game. I dare opposing coaches to underestimate that part of Seahawks football. It will come.
People can worry about Team A, B or C playing well all they want. The team I see developing in Seattle has only one true threat, and they play in New England. For now, their attention will turn to a crucible of top-shelf offenses with suspect defenses. After averaging 7.5 points through two games, the Seahawks are averaging 32 points in their last two. Imagine what they can do against the likes of Atlanta and New Orleans.
This group is growing older together. Aging can either lead to spoiling or refinement. This band of brothers has their sights set on a standard only they can set. Rest well NFL, the Seahawks are coming for you in two weeks.