The Morning After: Seahawks Finally Dominate, Slay Giants 24-7
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I sent a note to the Hawk Blogger insider Facebook group Sunday morning that read, “Gotta admit, I’m not feeling it today.” They say loneliness makes the heart grow fonder, but the bye week left me feeling stripped of rose-colored glasses and finally seeing the Seahawks for the fatally flawed offense they are. The offensive line had been terrible, and they had just lost one of their better pass blockers. Jimmy Graham has been sleepwalking through the season. Even Russell Wilson had struggled to make plays he normally makes. Now they were facing an ultra-talented Giants defense that found their stride a week earlier in Denver. It felt like this would be the Seahawks unmasking, an embarrassing loss to the 1-5 Giants. Instead, the Seahawks dominated an opponent more completely than at any time this season, and in doing so, renewed hope that they can remain the brooding superheroes we have cheered these past few years.
It starts with the offense
There will be plenty who say the Seahawks started slowly again, pointing at the scoreless first quarter and measly three points at halftime. There is certainly some truth to that, but points are really trailing indicators of good offense. Before you become an offense that scores consistently, you must demonstrate an ability to advance the ball. In order for the Seattle offense to advance the ball, they need to find some footing in the run game and complement that with a passing game that features good decision-making and accuracy. They were doing that in the first half, but a few costly mistakes were keeping points from materializing.
As my son put it at halftime, “This doesn’t feel like a normal Seahawks game. When they have three points in the first half, they usually have only a few first downs and are barely moving the ball.” Seattle had 222 yards in the first half and converted four of their eight 3rd down chances.
They did it with a quietly effective running game that seemed to have more room for their backs and with Wilson seeming to be locked in from the beginning. The coaching staff may have noticed the same tendency I pointed out on Friday, as just two of their nine 1st quarter pass attempts were deep throws. They appeared less desperate, and more confident. That they managed to do that while facing Jason Pierre-Paul, Damon Harrison, Landon Collins, Janoris Jenkins, and the rest of the Giants crew made it more impressive.
Both Ethan Pocic and Mark Glowinski fared well in the game. Pocic looked terrific on first watch. ProFootballFocus had some numbers to back that up, as Pocic did not give up a single quarterback pressure in 22 pass blocking snaps at left guard. Glowinski allowed just one pressure in his 23 pass block snaps, but also had a needless penalty. My bet is that Pocic is going to get the nod to take over that spot starting next week. He looks ready.
The offensive line, on the whole, gave up just 11 pressures in 42 pass snaps, which ranked 13th in the NFL for this week. The only sack allowed came when Wilson attempted to spin around near the sideline and lost track of a defensive back who came up and pulled him down. There was nothing the line could do for him in that situation. There were some additional pressures allowed by tight ends or running backs, but the line largely did a good job protecting Wilson.
He rewarded them with his best game of the season. Wilson had bigger numbers in Tennessee (373 yards vs 334 yards and 4 TDs vs 3 TDs), but most of them came in desperation hurry-up against a tired Titans defense playing to protect a lead. He made a series of clever decisions and heady throws throughout this game. His accuracy was much improved, even if there were a few throws he would like back. When your chief complaints are that he should have had closer to 500 yards passing and 5 TDs instead of over 300 and 3 TDs, that is what you call a good day.
The QBR stat that ESPN pioneered is meant to more comprehensively grade a quarterback’s performance, accounting for things like the situations when plays were made. Wilson’s best QBR day had been against the Colts when he registered an 86.4 QBR (100 is perfect). The Titans game with all those gaudy stats was just a 68.1 QBR. He set a new bar against the Giants with an 88.5 QBR, and had his highest passer rating of the season as well (121.1).
He spread the ball around to 11 different receivers, and threw explosive passes (16+ yards) to six of them. Wilson is at his best when he is giving his receivers a chance to make a play on the ball. He was great at that with Golden Tate, and is beginning to develop a similar chemistry and trust with Paul Richardson. That made it all the more entertaining to see Richardson involved with a simultaneous possession jump ball in the end zone. Richardson out jumped the defense and got his hands on the ball first, and then showed grit in wrestling for possession once they hit the ground. It was Richardson’s second explosive play of the game, and his team-leading third touchdown reception on the year.
Tyler Lockett was more involved with the offense than we have seen, and could have had at least one long touchdown himself if Wilson had made a better throw late in the game. I did not love their use of him in the run game. The yards he will gain there are not worth the risk to his body.
Jimmy Graham turned a terrible game into a decent one. He dropped a touchdown pass and a wide open route that would have gone for at least 30 yards in the first half, before making three nice catches that led to points. The team targeted him three different times in the red zone with fade routes. Wilson overthrew one. Graham dropped the second, albeit on an inaccurate throw. The pair connected on the third, making it two games in a row they have hooked up on that throw. It is not yet a reliable option, but it is good to see them working on it and getting some results from it.
Doug Baldwin shines
One of the big stories was Doug Baldwin shoving offensive line coach and assistant head coach, Tom Cable on the sidelines in the first half. We were later told that Pete Carroll had asked Cable to speak to the offense and that happened to come at the same time Wilson was trying to rally the troops. Baldwin wanted Cable to let Wilson speak and his frustration boiled over. He apologized after the game, but you get the feeling that most folks had already forgiven him. After all, this offense has been frustrating all season, and it was almost reassuring to see someone on the team felt as aggravated by the performance as the fans.
Baldwin holds a high bar for himself, and does the same for those around him. He is playing his best football, and has not had a lot to show for it. Fans tend to focus on the impact of the poor line play has on Wilson or the poor play calling on Graham, but Baldwin might be this team’s best offensive player and has seen his prowess wasted. If you get the chance, watch a replay of Baldwin’s touchdown catch against Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Not the catch itself, but the first three steps off the line. Rodgers was dust well before the throw fell into Baldwin’s arms. There may not be a better first three steps off the line than Baldwin’s.
There may not be better hands in the NFL than Baldwin’s. He made catch-after-catch on 3rd down to keep drives alive. Add in that he is among the best blockers at his position, and it is no wonder that he can get frustrated when he looks up and sees three points on the board.
He is settling in as the leader this team needs on and off the field. The offense appeared to play far better after the sideline incident. Coincidence? Probably not.
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Best offensive performance this season
There is a geeky football stat called success rate. A successful play is defined as getting 40% of yards on first down, 60% of yards on second down, and 100% of yards on third down. In other words, getting 4 yards on 1st and 10 would be considered a successful play, but you would need to gain 6 yards on 2nd and 10 to be considered successful. Don’t overthink it. Just know that this metric has correlated to winning. The Seahawks offense, not surprisingly, has been struggling to score well in success rate. This game against New York, though, was the first time this season they finished in the top ten in the NFL for both running and passing success rate.
Even though Thomas Rawls and Eddie Lacy finished with modest numbers, they were gaining more health chunks of three yards or more throughout the day. Rawls continues to look like the better back, who could break out if given the chance to stay in rhythm. At the same time, the team needs Lacy to help reduce the wear and tear on Rawls.
J.D. McKissic continues to be an impactful addition to the offense, and is the perfect change-of-pace back. His sprint around the right side of the line late in the game was just the latest example of the juice he can bring this offense.
The defense does its part
Holding a team to 7 points and 177 yards is always impressive, but the truth is that we should expect that from this crew against a toothless offense like what the Giants rolled out. Don’t get me wrong, the defense played a great game, but if you asked the guys in that locker room, they would tell you they expect this of themselves.
It wouldn’t surprise me if a number of the players are frustrated the Giants got seven points. This was a shutout worthy performance, but they somehow lost track of the Giants one receiving threat in the red zone.
The run defense was great and consistent. The pass defense was great and consistent. When it was all over, the Seahawks found themselves back in a familiar place atop the NFL in points allowed (15.7 ppg), tied with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Some player performances deserve more of a spotlight. Branden Jackson is a defensive end who got his first snaps in the Rams game after Quinton Jefferson broke his hand in practice. Jackson responded with three quarterback pressures in that game in just a handful of snaps. He did it again versus the Giants. The youngster is earning more snaps, and may be part of how this defensive line solves what is becoming a problem in generating pass rush.
Shaquill Griffin continues to play solid football opposite Richard Sherman. He led the team with 3 passes defensed. By my eye, he is the easily the best second corner the Seahawks have had since Brandon Browner, and is arguably already the best cover corner not named Sherman this team has had. Walter Thurmond may have a case, but Griffin deserves a ton of credit for how seamlessly he has blended into the Seahawks secondary.
Justin Coleman got way too much criticism for his game against the Rams. People were upset about some tackles they believed he should have made. What I see is the best nickel corner this team has had since Thurmond. He is considerably better than Jeremy Lane, and I can only hope the team sees what I see. He was like white on rice this week. He finished as the third best nickel corner in the NFL this week, per ProFootballFocus metrics.
Sherman is so consistently excellent, we tend to forget him. He is on top of his game as well, and had a gorgeous pass break-up early in the game that could have been a touchdown if he is not in position to swat it away at the last second.
All this adds up to a team that is leaving quarterbacks with very little chance of success. Despite facing Aaron Rodgers and the red-hot Jared Goff, the Seahawks are second in the NFL in opponent passer rating (69.9). That is considerably better than what they were doing last season, and on pace to be the second-best mark in the Legion of Boom era.
Only the 2013 squad was better at 63.4, and the Seahawks have been especially stingy of late, allowing just a 58.1 rating over their last three games. Earl Thomas dropped an easy interception versus the Giants or that number would be even lower.
Jarran Reed had his best game as a pro. He finished with 7 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, a sack and a forced fumble. That is now two straight games where he has caused a turnover. He is finally starting to live up to the second round pedigree.
Lots of reasons for optimism
Seattle exits this game 4-2, having played four of their six games on the road. Their only two losses were by 8 points to Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay and by 6 points in Tennessee. They beat a Rams team that is annihilating everyone else, and know their chief NFC rivals (LA, PHI) will need to travel to Seattle later this season. Their offense just played its most balanced and consistent game of the season and has had at least 425 yards in three of their past four games. The defense has not allowed more than 18 points against any team other than the Titans. Young players like McKissic, Pocic, Germain Ifedi, Richardson, Griffin, Reed, Jackson, and Coleman are stepping forward. Veterans like Baldwin, Thomas, Wagner, Sherman, K.J. Wright, Bobby Wagner, and Kam Chancellor are having terrific seasons. Wilson has had a passer rating of 107 or higher in three of his last four games, and just played his best game of the season.
The much-maligned offensive line had their best day run blocking and pass protecting. Even Rees Odhiambo checked in with the fifth-best game of any tackle this week according to ProFootballFocus. As frustrating as it was to watch, Graham now has two red zone touchdowns in the last two games, and should have had three.
The long runs that were plaguing the Seahawks for a couple weeks against the 49ers and Titans have vanished.
That was the last time all season the team will face two straight road games. After hosting the Texans and Redskins the next two weeks, they will alternate home and road the rest of the way, and their next road opponent just lost their quarterback.
Something is building here. No team in the NFL is better equipped to capitalize on a weak group of contenders than the Seahawks. We knew the offense would take time to develop and the defense needed to lead the way. They may be emerging from the messiest part of the season, ready to ascend. I was not feeling it before, but I am certainly feeling it now.