The Morning After: Seahawks Raise Expectations in 28-26 Road Victory Over Steelers
It was not so long ago that every Seahawks fan would pour over the NFL schedule when it was announced to see how many 10AM games their team was going to be forced to play that season. Every early start meant almost certain doom. No matter the year, no matter the coach, no matter the players, the Seahawks would invariably lay an egg during 10AM games. This was not just folk lore. The Seahawks compiled a record of 54-74 in 10AM starts on the road between the years of 1976 and 2009. Enter Pete Carroll. His Seahawk teams manage to play hard and fast every single game regardless of the talent, the opponent, the location, or the venue. Since 2010, the Seahawks were 14-13 in 10AM road games. Make that 15-13 after Carroll’s team helped him notch his 100th victory as the Seattle coach.
If someone had told us back in June that:
Jarran Reed would not play a snap
Ziggy Ansah would miss both games
Poona Ford would miss one game
Mike Iupati would miss one game
David Moore would miss both games
Chris Carson would have two fumbles, and be part of a third
The Seahawks would have 18 penalties
Russell Wilson would be sacked 8 times
Andy Dalton would throw for over 400 yards
Not a single one of us would have predicted the Seahawks winning both games. Yet, here we are. The Seahawks are 2-0 for only the second time in the Carroll era. There will be no shortage of naysayers who nitpick the way Seattle got to these two wins.
They will harp on the three point differential. They will talk about how Dalton and Mason Rudolph looked good against the Seattle defense. They will question how good the Bengals and the Steelers are.
How good was the Broncos team last year that beat Seattle in week one? Or the Cardinals team they needed a last second field goal to beat three weeks later? Or the Titans team that ran all over them in 2017? Or the Nick Foles-led Rams team that beat Seattle in the 2015 opener?
Do not ever apologize for winning a game, let alone a game on the road. Not only did the Seahawks win this game in Pittsburgh—a place they had lost by a combined score of 45-0 in their two previous visits—they won despite making a lengthy list of normally fatal mistakes and playing short-handed. I see significant upside.
Consider that the Steelers had one touchdown drive of longer than 22 yards. And even then, it took a bad decision from Mychal Kendricks to draw an unnecessary pass interference call to make one of those touchdowns possible. The two fumbles made this game close.
Seattle punted on their first possession of the second half and then went:
Run out the clock
It is not hard to imagine that the Seahawks would have scored more points had that fumble not occurred. Pittsburgh could not stop the Seahawks in the second half. That was arguably the largest development this week.
Many of us have been beating the drum for the Seahawks to employ a quicker passing game. I made the point last week that the debate over passing versus running has been too simplistic.
Carroll and Wilson both love chunk plays and play action passing. That works wonderfully when pass protection can hold up long enough for Wilson to make his drop and step into a throw. Too often, the team would circle the wagons when pass protection broke down and turn exclusively to the run game.
I argued that they need a different fallback plan when pass protection fails. They need outlets for Wilson to utilize if a pass rusher is in his face, like a running back in the flat or a tight end near the line. They need quick passes in the 7-15 yard range. Even the best pass rush cannot get to a quarterback who is getting rid of the ball in less than 2.5 seconds.
As logical as that all sounds, we have very rarely seen the Seahawks do anything that resembles it. The closest would be the second half of 2015 when Wilson and Doug Baldwin set the NFL ablaze.
The stage was set in Pittsburgh. Seattle was struggling mightily with the Steelers pass rush in the first half. Wilson was sacked four times by the midpoint of the second quarter.
Brian Schottenheimer and Wilson transformed the offense after halftime. We saw swing passes to running backs, spreading the field with a flood of receivers in short and intermediate depths, quick reads and deliveries from Wilson. The Steelers went from aggressive and dominating to docile and reactive.
Wilson was surgical. He was decisive. He was as good as he has ever been in a Seahawks uniform. Think that is hyperbole?
No Seahawks quarterback had ever completed 80% of his passes while throwing for 300+ yards and 3+ TDs in one game until Wilson did it in Pittsburgh.
Eight different players caught passes. Nineteen of Wilson’s 35 pass attempts were within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. His average time to throw in this game was around 1.9 seconds, which was the fastest of any quarterback in the NFL since 2016.
The Steelers had nary a sack after halftime.
There has been so much consternation that Seattle would never employ this approach either due to Carroll’s offensive philosophy, Schottenheimer’s lack of competence, or Wilson’s limitations of height and/or willingness to take short passes. That the team had their best half of offensive football on the road in recent memory against a defense that was keyed up and playing well is a very, very good sign.
The Patriots scored 33 points against this defense at home. The Seahawks scored 28 points against them on the road while fumbling the ball twice.
The good news did not stop there.
Rashaad Penny had maybe my favorite game of his short career. His cut was special, and his burst was apparent on the 37-yard touchdown run. But it was the way he ran between the tackles and pushed the pile for 3-7 yard runs that was most encouraging. He has been hesitant in past games to take the short gains, and tended to take losses or no gain instead of just plowing forward and gaining a couple. He did that and more in this game.
It was encouraging to see the team utilize C.J. Prosise as a two-minute back. He is perfect for that role, and could earn additional snaps if he can stay healthy in those limited snaps.
Malik Turner had two clutch third down catches and caught all three of his targets for 54 yards, showing he can be a contributor to this team.
D.K. Metcalf did what only three other 21-year old receivers in NFL history have done by compiling 150+ receiving yards and 1+ TDs in his first two games. The other three players? Randy Moss, DeAndre Hopkins, and Amari Cooper. Heady company.
Metcalf showed off terrific hands again in this game. That is a trait that seemed to get lost in the hype around his remarkable athleticism. How many GMs around the league are shaking their heads for passing on this guy once, twice, or even three times?
Will Dissly caught two touchdowns and now has four touchdowns in his first six games as a pro. He only played 8 snaps in one of those games, so it is really more like 4 TDs in five games. Only two tight ends in history have started their careers like that: Eric Green in 1990 and Hal Bedsole in 1964.
The upgrade from George Fant or Nick Vannett to Dissly as the top tight end cannot be overstated. He had 5 catches in 5 targets and each one was big. He could be on his way to a Jason Witten-esque career.
The defense will get roasted for allowing Rudolph to complete 12 of 19 passes and 2 touchdowns. I get it. Nobody knows Rudolph. What I saw was a kid who came in and made good throws, on time, with receivers making sometimes spectacular grabs. There was almost zero run after catch, and outside of a flea flicker that Lano Hill bit on, almost nothing went for longer than 20 yards.
The secondary looked competent. Shaquill Griffin continued to play faster and with more confidence. Jamar Taylor did mostly a good job in his first game as the nickel corner. McDougald had a great catch for a key interception.
The defensive line looked very good to start the game. They were in Roethlisberger’s face on nearly every snap, forcing him to move around and throw uncomfortably. They were also shutting down the run.
The pass rush all-but-disappeared, and the interior of the line seemed to tire. The lack of Ford really showed up in the second half. The idea of adding Ford, Reed, and Ansah to this line should make every Seahawks fan salivate.
Overall, this defense felt fast and aggressive and tackled well. Had the offense held onto the ball, the Steelers likely score fewer than 20 points.
Now the Seahawks return home to face a Saints team who will probably be missing their starting quarterback. They will gain Ansah and Moore. Both could be important additions. Moore could surprise people with how he impacts the offense. Three vertical threats with him, Metcalf, and Lockett pose some intriguing problems for defenses.
This team was winless a year ago. Worse, they appeared lost in the forest searching for who they were. They managed to turn things around and make the playoffs. This team is undefeated and has yet to play their best football or field their best team. Even Carroll’s most stubborn detractors acknowledge that he has a proven track record of having his team’s play their best later in the season. The rest of the league will overlook this team after two close victories and a myriad of miscues. Let them. Seattle is best when underestimated. Carroll is an alchemist, and he has all the ingredients he needs to transform this team into something special.