The Morning After: Seahawks Embrace Identity, Beat Bucs 40-34 in OT
They say the city light twinkle most when there is smog and pollution in the way. Particles between you and the source of light cause refraction, and the illusion of twinkling. It is both beautiful and disturbing. Meet your 2019 Seattle Seahawks. Russell Wilson and this offense are supplying all the electricity to light this city, while this defense tries repeatedly to poison the air. Somehow, together, they combine to create a mesmerizing effect and a gaudy 7-2 record.
Many will cringe at the notion that a 2-5 football team came into Seattle and nearly beat the Seahawks. Forget the fact that a winless Tampa Bay visited Seattle six years to the day (yesterday) and took a 21-0 lead over the eventual Super Bowl Champion Seahawks before succumbing in overtime. Ignore that this Bucs team beat the Rams 55-40 in Los Angeles. Football is a game of matchups, and the Seahawks had only one way to beat this team. It required going against their typical approach. Had they stubbornly stuck to their usual formula, Seattle would be 6-3 right now.
The Bucs were the best run defense in football entering this game. They also had one of the best offense in the league, while having faced top five defenses in five of their seven games. Unless the Seahawks suddenly became competent on defense, the Bucs were going to put up points. A lot of points. Had Seattle insisted on testing the Tampa run defense while the Bucs were jamming up and down the field on offense, there is no way the Seahawks could have won.
Instead, Brian Schottenheimer and Pete Carroll came out with a logical game plan to attack one of the worst pass defense in the league. Seattle passed on five of their first six plays on an opening drive touchdown. They wound up passing 38 times versus 22 passes on first and second down for the game.
Leaning into their best player and their biggest advantage allowed Wilson and his merry band of game wreckers to put up huge numbers, especially after halftime. Wilson finished with 378 yards passing, 5 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. Both Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf had over 100 yards receiving and at least one score. It became such a factor for the troubled Bucs defense, that even the run game got untracked.
Chris Carson finished with over 100 yards rushing. No other back had managed more than 78 yards against the Bucs before yesterday. Carson also fumbled twice and lost one. One can only hope he is learning his lesson this season. He is too good to sit, but this team is not good enough to beat quality opponents when they turn the ball over.
Wilson and Lockett reprised their roles as magician and illusionist. Wilson deftly avoids pressure, and makes the ball disappear and reappear in receiver’s hands all over the field. Lockett routinely defies the laws of physics while exasperating defenders who cannot believe what they just saw.
How good has Lockett been? He set his career best for receptions in the season (59) with seven games remaining.
Metcalf was not far behind the master. The rookie/centaur had 106 yards receiving and his touchdown in the fourth quarter and overtime alone. The Bucs could not stop him. This was easily the most dominant performance of his young career.
When he caught the ball on the final drive of the fourth quarter, he was knocking guys over and running past them to gain extra yards and still managing to get out of bounds. It was child’s play for the man with the binky.
Metcalf has 525 yards receiving through his first nine games. Only Joey Galloway (536 yards) has had more as a Seahawks rookie to start his career. The only other Seahawks rookie to have a game where they caught at least 6 passes, over 120 yards, and at least 1 touchdown was Steve Largent back in 1976.
Metcalf is doing things that only guys with names like Randy Moss and Mike Evans have done at the age of 21. There is every reason to think he could become the best receiver in franchise history given this early trajectory. Lockett may have something to say about that before it is all said and done.
The Seahawks now get to add Josh Gordon into that mix. He may wind up washing out. He probably will end up washing out. The potential, though, is tantalizing. Defenses will not be able to double anyone. New England is not the deep passing team Seattle is, which is a strength of Gordon’s. He is not technician Tom Brady likes to work with. He is the elite deep threat Wilson loves to work with.
The (on-field) question will more be whether the Seahawks can protect long enough for the deep plays to develop. They did quite well in that regard on Sunday. The offensive line was quietly competent in this game. Wilson was sacked three times, but on 43 pass attempts, or only 6.5% of the time.
Todd Bowles is the defensive coordinator for Tampa Bay, and Wilson has had a series of fantastic performances against his heavy blitzing scheme. It was pretty darn sweet seeing Bruce Arians and Jameis Winston eat this loss.
It almost didn’t happen, though, due to brutally bad defense and special teams play.
Why on earth is Brian Schneider still employed? His special teams units have been awful for years now. He went after Blair Walsh and then Sebastian Janikowski and then Jason Myers. His coverage units are well below average. His return units are near the worst in football. It is very hard to see what he is bringing to the table besides Pepcid.
Myers was a mistake from the moment they signed him. He had one good season for a team playing meaningful football. No real pressure. They sign him to a lucrative contract that could have been money spent on a pass rusher like, oh…say, Shaquill Barrett (1 year, $5M deal) who now has 11 sacks on the season.
As an aside, that’s not second-guessing. I hated the Myers deal as soon as it was announced and said so on Twitter, and made the case for Barrett multiple times on the podcast during the offseason. That does not mean I’m brilliant. It just means the evidence was there to make a more sound choice.
Matt Gay played for the Bucs yesterday as a rookie who is now 3-4 from beyond 50 yards. He will make less in four seasons (~$2.8M) than Myers was guaranteed at signing ($5M). More importantly, he will be a better player than Myers.
Finding a kicker is not hard. Young players come out every year. Draft or sign an undrafted free agent or two. Have them compete. Keep one. If that player washes out, bring someone else in until you find one that works. It an approach John Schneider and Pete Carroll took with the whole roster in 2010. It is the approach they took in finding Stephen Hauschka.
They will not cut Myers, at least not yet. I am ready for them to at least bring in players for tryouts. Competition is supposedly a central tenet of this program. Myers has been terrible. Given what I saw during training camp where he was coaching Michael Dickson on kicking, it is not even out of the question that he was part of the reason Dickson struggled to start this year. Tin foil hat conspiracy theory? Perhaps. Just make your kicks, dude.
Now, the defense. Sigh. I am going to forego the blistering tirade about how bad this group is. They are one of the worst two or three defenses in all of football.
Here’s what I will tell you. There is still hope for some level of improvement. Quandre Diggs could be a key figure. Increasingly, I wonder if he will step in at nickel corner instead of safety. Jamar Taylor is so bad. So, so, bad. He can’t cover. He can’t tackle.
That one change could solidify a few things, including allowing the team to play more nickel. We can also hope that Quinton Jefferson returns this week, which would be the first time the team had Jefferson, Jadeveon Clowney, and Jarran Reed all available in the same game. I would have included Ziggy Ansah, but I don’t think there is much hope he will do anything of value the rest of the way.
Increasingly, I’m wondering if Tre Flowers is the Tedric Thompson of cornerbacks. He’s not fast enough to close and make big plays, and is always a few steps away from his opponent when the catch is made. We are not seeing tight coverage or tightening coverage. I had thought there were signs of improvement before he got hurt, but that was not the case yesterday.
The run defense was better against the Bucs. There were more tackles for loss and decent tackling. They need to be great with opponents like the 49ers and Vikings coming up.
Or not. Wilson and crew can remain the twinkle in this magical season. They have the potential to be the best offense in the game. As audacious as that sounds, they are #1 in the NFL in yards since week two of the season and #2 in the league in scoring over that same period. Seattle fans may hack and cough as they try to breathe in the splendor of a 7-2 start to the year, but take heart that the sun is rising on a new era of Seahawks football with the best player in the sport.