The Morning After: Seahawks Remain Half Good, Beat Lowly Falcons by 7
I had a pretty good feeling headed into this game that the Seahawks were going to blow out the Atlanta Falcons, and that the most obnoxious of Seahawks fans would be minimizing the outcome because of how bad Matt Schaub and the Falcons are. Intead, we got a reminder of why it is so aggravating and misguided when fans dismiss blowout victories over any NFL team in any situation. Playing a complete and dominant football game is an indication of a quality football team. Seattle was in position to do exactly that. Their terrific first half showed progress. Their putrid second half showed they still have a long way to go.
There was a lot to be encouraged by early on. Shaquill Griffin had a wonderful first half with some great pass breakups. He looked like a shutdown corner. Jadeveon Clowney spent most of the first half in the Falcons backfield. He was disruptive even when he was not the player recording the tackle. Mychal Kendricks had a terrific interception.
Most meaningful was the play of Marquise Blair. He started at safety and made tackles all over the field. He delivered multiple (legal) big hits, and was credited with a forced fumble in the second half that may have won the game. His play mattered because this defense desperately needs players who the team can reasonably expect will get better as this year wears on, or at least are upgrades over the guys they are replacing.
Blair was better in this game than Bradley McDougald or Tedric Thompson have been in any game this year. Even if his game grade does not hold up to that statement, he clearly made more impactful plays in this game than either safety has recorded in a single game this season.
McDougald sat out likely due to health. He is recovering from back spasms. I would expect Quandre Diggs to replace Thompson as soon as he is ready to suit up. There is some question if that will be this next week or the week after. A Diggs and Blair duo could be the biggest hope for improved play from this defense.
This was the first time all season the starting defensive line played together. They looked active and disruptive in the first half, with Clowney leading the way. There is some hope that group can improve with more time together, but Ziggy Ansah just does not look like a player capable of much more than we are seeing. Neither Rasheem Green nor Branden Jackson are worthy replacements. L.J. Collier has shown nothing noteworthy and looks like “just a guy” so far.
Most disappointing might be Poona Ford, who we had real reason to hope would be a major source of frustration for opposing offenses. He has had some flashes, but has been mostly a good-but-not-great interior lineman.
Cody Barton got his first snaps in place of K.J. Wright in this game and had one nice open field tackle. The team would be wise to find more snaps for him. The linebacker trio has not been anywhere close to as productive as anticipated.
Part of how Pete Carroll has guided his teams to strong finishes is by developing young players in the early part of the year and bearing fruit from them later in the season. Those players need to see the field to develop. Given just how awful this defense has been, it is hard to argue the team would be hurt by playing guys like Blair, Barton, and even Ugo Amadi more than we have seen.
Are we sure Jamar Taylor is better than Amadi at nickel corner? Even if the answer is, “yes.” Are we sure Amadi would not turn into a better player than Taylor after 5-6 weeks of consistent playing time?
Right now, this Seahawks team has a good enough offense to be dangerous and a defense bad enough that missing the playoffs is a legitimate possibility despite a 6-2 start. There is not an abundance of talent here.
There are big name guys on the downward slopes of their careers (Wright, Ansah, Taylor), one very good player in his prime (Clowney), guys not playing to their standards (Jarran Reed, Ford, Wagner), young guys who have not proven more than moderate talent (Green, Flowers, Jackson, Collier), two youngsters on the rise (Griffin, Blair), and some unknowns (Diggs, Amadi, Barton).
The upside is in those last five names. The last four, in particular. It is time to start learning about them, and the coaches gave some indication they agree by player all but an injured Diggs in this game. The other hope would be that the defensive line gels and maybe, just maybe, Ansah starts resembling the player he was last year when healthy.
It is a lottery ticket. The odds are not great this group will become a good defense. The more reasonable goal is that they are in the middle of the pack, capable of slowing good offenses. They have a long way to go.
The total lack of backbone in the second half against a backup quarterback was distressing. Who knows what might have been different had Clowney not jumped offsides on 4th and 2 on the first drive of the second half. Maybe the Seahawks get off the field there and the offense has good field position to go and end all hope for the Falcons.
What we saw instead was a Falcons team put up 20 points in the second half, and total over 500 yards of offense. They scored on every possession in the second half except when Blair was credited with a forced fumble at the goal line. To be honest, I still have no idea why that was called a fumble.
That type of performance might be enough to beat the Bucs this coming Sunday, but it will give this team no chance of beating a powerhouse like the 49ers.
Meanwhile, the once-great Seahawks offense has been just good the last two weeks. They gave up 14 points on turnovers last week and were reliant on some miraculous plays to move the ball this week.
Thankfully, Russell Wilson and Tyler Lockett are capable of repeated miracles in a game, but there was not a lot of repeatable pass success in this game. The pass protection was notably degraded against one of the worst pass rushes in the NFL. They had not had a sack in 300+ snaps, but ended with two in this game.
The coaches inexplicably chose to start D.J. Fluker over Jamarco Jones after Jones had proven he was one of the five best linemen on this team. Fluker was predictably a weak spot in pass protection.
The team lost Justin Britt on the first possession and likely for the rest of the year. Joey Hunt filled in, and is the only center on the roster right now. Ethan Pocic was placed on injured reserve a few weeks back and won’t be eligible to come off IR until December 6th, meaning he could play the final four games of the season.
Pocic would be an upgrade over Hunt, but we cannot be sure he will return this year. The team could bring back Marcus Martin, who was with the squad in training camp and has been a starting center at times in the NFL. They could also choose to cross-train another lineman like Jordan Roos.
Losing Britt is not a massive blow. He is an average starting center. The difference between him and a guy like Hunt is modest. It will show up most against defensive linemen with tremendous strength, like the 49ers have. Pocic, if he can get back, might actually be an improvement in pass protection over Britt.
Fans were upset at what they perceived to be a conservative game plan in the second half against Atlanta because Seattle ran the ball. Truthfully, the running game was the most explosive and reliable part of the offense in the first half.
The team had run for 130 yards. Chris Carson nearly had 100 yards by halftime. Rashaad Penny looked good. The Falcons stuffed them on the first possession. What was inexcusable was the run play on 3rd and 3 on the first series, and the running play on 3rd and 6 on the second-to-last series. Those were terrible coaching decisions that indicated a staff trying not to lose instead of one eager to finish off their opponent.
Otherwise, the players deserve a fair amount of scrutiny. There were not many receivers getting open. There were precious few holes for the backs to run through.
This offense has to be close to dominant for this team to be a threat in the postseason. The bar is very high. They have not met it the last two weeks.
All that, and the Seahawks are 6-2 on the season, and undefeated in four road contests. They have a better record than the Rams. They technically control their own destiny given they have two games left with the 49ers. They have the best quarterback in the division, and arguably in the whole conference, and maybe in the whole league. Their coach has a history of getting his teams to play their best football late in the season. Their special teams finally played a good game, with both kickers doing their jobs. They are favored against their next opponent, which would get them to 7-2 should they finally play a decent game at home (pray for clear skies).
Our hearts want to go all in with this team, but our heads are telling us that would be unwise. There are teams playing harder, smarter, better and more consistently than the Seahawks. This is not yet a team anyone fears. We saw a glimpse of what that team might look like this week. Getting back Tre Flowers, inserting Diggs and Blair and maybe Amadi, could lead to a secondary that causes more cringes for opponents than Seattle fans. This is a group still in its chrysalis. Let us hope they spread their wings soon.