The Morning After: Seahawks Cobble Together 20-17 Win Over Lowly Cardinals
We like the rain. The chorus of millions of individual drops of revival racing to join their brethren on Earth. We like the crisp air following a storm, almost as refreshing as a glass of crystal clear water. We like the green, the yellow, and the candy apple red of fall foliage. We love the stunning snow-capped peaks and the ever-flowing waterways in the valleys. We celebrate the splendor of the northwest, and smile knowingly at one another that we love what many cannot understand. Arizona is barren. It is relentlessly hot. Life is not welcome there, but many force the false marriage. Like harbor seals sunning themselves briefly before returning to their liquid homes, Seahawks fans make the trek to Glendale annually in the fall and winter as the light dims and temperatures drop. The warmth is welcome. The wins are common. So, too, is the pain of franchise-altering loss. A fateful interception at the 1-yard line. A physically draining tie in 2016 that turned a team that started 4-1 into a 6-4 finisher. The last game in a Seahawks uniform for Richard Sherman. The last game of Kam Chancellor’s career. And now, what may be the last time Earl Thomas dons the blue and green. You can keep your sun and heat and painted lawns. We cannot survive many more losing trips to the desert, even those that end in victory.
There will be plenty of conversation about the middle finger Thomas raised as he was carted to the locker room. It is the salacious story to follow and requires no attempt at empathy. Would Nina Thomas, Earl’s wife, or his mother approve of his decision? Probably not. Does everyone who knows him, including those who he was aiming the gesture at, understand the feeling that caused it and absolve him for the action? Yes. The story is not the finger or the emotion. It is the bitter reality that the sport is merciless, even for the most outstanding players. Thomas is the greatest safety of his generation and has every right to want to be paid a salary that reflects his talent. The Seahawks were reminded just a year ago in this very same venue the risk of signing a player to their third contract when Chancellor went down and retired-without-retiring.
Thomas sees what happens to Chancellor and thinks that is exactly the security he wants and has earned. The Seahawks look at that deal as exactly the type of hollow contract they cannot afford. They are both right. As a Seahawks fan, I want Earl to get that money, but I sure as heck do not want the team to be hamstrung by having money tied up in players not on the field. Perhaps there is a solution in a future collective bargaining agreement that would allow teams to pay players with career-ending injuries some percentage of their contracts without having it count against the salary cap.
Most owners will not do that willingly. Instead, we are stuck with farces like what is happening with Chancellor, and bitter endings like what has happened with Thomas. If the Seahawks knew their only risk to extending Thomas was having to pay him more of Paul Allen’s money, I believe the equation would have changed. Thomas would have been signed, and probably be back on the field for the next 2-3 years. Instead, he will rehab and be ready in time for free agency to sign elsewhere. Or, he will choose to hang up his cleats. Regardless, it is an unfortunate ending to what has been a glorious career in Seattle.
The Seahawks front office deserves plenty of criticism for their handling of this situation. Turn the emotional side off for a moment. Thomas should have been traded before or during the NFL draft. He should have been traded before training camp. He should have definitely been traded after his great game against the Cowboys last week. The chances to come away with a meaningful building block toward the future were plentiful. They will now almost certainly receive nothing. Even if Thomas somehow gets a lucrative deal (far less likely after injury), Seattle is probably going to sign enough free agents of their own to cancel out the Thomas deal and finish with no compensatory picks. This was just the latest bungle after the Sheldon Richardson, Jimmy Graham, and Percy Harvin deals. Even the Duane Brown trade deserves serious scrutiny given his age and trade cost.
The news was even tougher with the Will Dissly injury. Dissly was having a terrific start to his rookie season, and figured to play a large role for years to come. His contributions were making it possible to consider cutting Ed Dickson, who is still on injured reserve. Had they cut Dickson and another couple of veteran free agents they signed this offseason, Seattle would have been in line to receive a 4th round compensatory pick. That seems far less likely now that Dissly is not just out for this season, but could be a question mark for next year given the uncertainty of recovery from patella injuries. It is a huge loss.
Now, for some good news. Seattle had their best day running the football in almost a year with 171 yards rushing and 5.0 yards per carry. Mike Davis rushed for 101 yards, giving the Seahawks their first back-to-back games with 100-yard rushers since Marshawn Lynch did it in weeks nine and ten of the 2014 season. That is 56 games between the last time Seattle had two straight weeks of 100-yard rushers. You can scoff at Dallas and Arizona, but if you don’t think the Seahawks played two inferior opponents in two straight weeks over the last three years, you are incorrect.
The most encouraging part was that much of the credit should go to the offensive line. There were real gaps for the backs to exploit. We were not seeing herculean efforts by either Davis or Rashaad Penny to find yardage. They both were able to showcase their ability in space. This was very different than the game against Dallas where the bulk of the yardage was coming after contact. The line was pretty bad in blocking the run in that contest. The hope here is that actually being given the chance to run with some amount of regularity is helping the line improve.
Run blocking involves a lot of coordination between the linemen to work in unison. The lack of padded practices makes it that much harder for young linemen or newly-formed lines to reach the level of precision needed for successful rushing attacks. That really only leaves in-game reps to build up that know-how.
And as bad as the winless Cardinals are, their run defense has not been a weak spot. They came into this game ranked 11th in the NFL in run DVOA by Football Outsiders, and 10th in opponent yards per carry. They held the powerhouse Rams to just 2.7 yards per run. Seattle basically doubled that, and did it on Arizona’s home field.
That matters because the Seahawks are a flawed team that must be able to cover up some of their weaknesses by sustaining drives on the ground. Even those who believe passing is the only thing that matters have to see that the Seahawks passing offense is far from reliable. You need stability somewhere. The run game may be the best hope for that.
It was nice to see both Davis and Penny contribute, and Carson will only add to that when he comes back. I continue to believe Carson is worth roughly 30-50% more per touch than Penny or Davis. He may regret missing this game when he takes the field against that Rams defensive line next week.
Russell Wilson even ran the ball a few times in this game without risking contact. He slid well in front of any defender, as we all want him to. His performance through the air was okay. There were precious few explosive pass plays. Wilson did not push the ball downfield much. He was only sacked twice and hit three times, so that may have had more to do with whether guys were getting open due to scheme or ability. He did just enough to get the team into field position for the game-winning kick. That always deserve recognition.
There was a lot of talk about going 0-10 on third down, for good reason, but that can be a little misleading. Seattle had 19 first downs and 331 yards of offense. Getting a first down on second down or first down instead of third down is just as useful, if not better. They were a couple of missed field goals away from a respectable 26 points on the road.
The defense had a strong statistical game, holding another team under 300 yards of offense (263 in this case). They might have even held the Cardinals under 14 points if not for a questionable pass interference call against Justin Coleman in the end zone. Seattle is now 7th in the NFL in yards allowed per game (326.8) and 9th in points allowed (20.3). Losing Thomas will undoubtedly impact those numbers.
It is remarkable that the team has made it this far with such a suspect pass rush. Rookie Josh Rosen had all day long to throw. This defense will suffer when facing better passing offenses. There is one coming to town this week that just put up 38 points against a team with a far better front seven than the Seahawks.
Jarran Reed deserves praise, though, for nothing his third sack of the season. He had 3 sacks in his first two seasons combined. They need to add more edge pressure. It did not help that the team was missing Rasheem Green and Dion Jordan, but let’s not kid ourselves about what either of those two really have contributed thus far.
This was a costly win, but one where the Seahawks were able to build on some newfound success on the ground from last week and play stingy enough defense. They will not beat the best teams with that formula, but will be competitive in most games and beat the lesser ones. It would be a season-changing moment if the Seahawks can find a way to beat the Rams next week. That, though, is a little like wishing for rain in the desert.