The Morning After: Seahawks Take Uncommon Route to First Place in 37-30 Victory Over Vikings
Few teams in the NFL manage to win 10 of their first 12 games. The ones that do boast dominant defenses or offenses. They find repeatable formulas for success that few opponents are able to overcome. These formulas become like fingerprints, unique identifiers about what makes that team great. Fans, analysts, and media members can use simple, short, soundbites to describe their success. The 49ers defense. Lamar Jackson’s greatness. One plus one equals two for those teams. They make sense.
Your 2019 Seattle Seahawks defy logic. They punt when they should go for it. The go for it when they should punt. They score 24 straight points against a great team and then allow the easiest of touchdowns to tighten the score. They throw and catch impossible touchdowns and then throw equally improbably interceptions and fumble away crucial gains. They dominate on the ground, but cannot convert a 3rd and short to save their lives. They miss game-winning field goals and extra points and then make every kick for three games.
For your Seattle Seahawks, one plus one does not equal two. It equals six. Then -10. Then π. They are a complex equation that stretches the bounds of human comprehension. People tend to dislike what they cannot understand. Predictability breeds comfort. You know what is coming, so you can prepare yourself for it, and explain it. That illusion of control and mastery of the world around you is soothing. These Seahawks don’t do soothing.
In many ways, they are the embodiment of their coach and their quarterback. Incorrigible, yet evolving. Risky, yet conservative. Maddeningly amazing when the game is on the line, yet awkward as a newborn foal for large stretches of the game. Critics are plentiful for how Russell Wilson plays the quarterback position and how Pete Carroll coaches, yet the wins continue to pile up at an unparalleled rate.
The Seahawks are now 16-3 in their last 19 games dating back to last season. No team in football has a better record in that span. Seattle has won 10 games in seven of the past eight seasons. No quarterback has won as many games in his first eight seasons.
Seattle played arguably their biggest home game in six seasons last night against a very talented 8-3 (now 8-4) Vikings squad. They repeated some of their previous home blunders in gifting opponents non-offensive touchdowns, fumbling, and missing tackles. Had they been playing the Ravens or the Saints, those pratfalls may have been enough to lose. Or, this clearly improved Seahawks team just showed they now have the wherewithal to overcome those mistakes against quality opponents and still win.
They did it against the 49ers. They did it against the Vikings. This defense is no longer a punchline. Seeing 30 points on the scoreboard is misleading as they only allowed 23 points to the offense and 354 yards. Dalvin Cook was ineffective as a runner before he left due to injury. Few teams have kept this Vikings offense under 24 points. Fewer have intercepted Kirk Cousins.
This was not the dominant defense we have seen the past two games, but it was plenty good enough to win.
Ziggy Ansah led a healthy pass rush with 3 of the team’s 7 quarterback hits. They did not sack Cousins, but collapsed the pocket with regularity. Tre Flowers had another interception, and now leads the team with three on the season. His development, paired with the consistently strong year from Shaquill Griffin bodes well for the stretch run.
Quandre Diggs delivered another gasp-inducing body blow, leaving folks wondering if the boom may be back in the secondary.
Jadeveon Clowney had some huge hits of his own and forced a fumble. Bobby Wagner appeared to have one of his better games of the season, both in tackling and in coverage.
Seattle missed a bevy of tackles on the first Vikings drive. They shored that up from then on. Coverage was mostly great outside of the bust that led to a long touchdown pass.
There were some mind-boggling plays that just bounced the wrong way for the Seahawks. Cousins was smacked as he threw in the second half but somehow had his pass go 20 yards downfield and settle perfectly into his tight ends hands. Those two connected on another improbable completion for a touchdown late. Wilson’s attempt to bat down a pass that wound up turning into a pick-six was a perfect fit for this bizarre Seahawks season.
Wilson was the clear NFL MVP for the first six weeks of the season. He has been far from dominant since then. Bizarre or not, he has interceptions in three straight games. When the team needed to seal the victory late in this game and on the road last week, they did it on the ground.
I came in expecting this was the game where Wilson would return to form and maybe even rekindle some talk of MVP status. He was merely good. This team absolutely needs him to be great to go where they want to go.
The health of Tyler Lockett has to be a significant factor. He was playing injured in the Eagles game and sick in this one. Teams are likely also doing all they can to take him out of the game and force other players to beat them.
D.K. Metcalf has done really well in some regards, but has dropped passes and fumbled receptions that make him dicey as a primary option. Josh Gordon has yet to be incorporated in the passing game with any regularity. Role players like David Moore and Malik Turner are great accents, but have not proven to be more than that yet.
The passing offense may be the biggest question mark on this team’s championship resume. That was their dominant strength early on. It is far from it right now.
I would love to see the team bring back more of the short passing game they featured in Pittsburgh to get Wilson in a rhythm and getting the ball out of his hands faster. There have been a lot of deep drops and holding the ball of late. Both sacks last night we due to Wilson’s unwillingness to throw the ball away and not poor pass protection. Brian Schottenheimer has to help there with more variation and fewer all-or-nothing plays.
What will also help is if the offensive line can play like they played last night. They were easily the best part of the team in that game. Besides providing terrific pass protection against a great pass rush, and clearing the way for 218 yards rushing, they had no penalties.
This group had their way with a very talented Vikings defensive line that was playing at full strength. Time after time, Seahawks runners ran into first contact 2, 3, 4, 5 yards down field. Both Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny played excellent games, but this may have been the most impressive run blocking performance I have seen from a Seahawks line since the 2005 squad with Walter Jones and Steven Hutchinson.
No, I am not saying they are as good as that line. This single game, though, was terrific. If they can do that against one of the best front sevens and run defenses in the league, what can they do against lesser run defenses?
People often misconstrue Carroll’s preaching of balance on offense to mean he wants to run 50% of the time. It is less about run/pass ratio and more about having the ability to run or pass when the situation calls for it.
Wilson remarked after the game that the Vikings played a lot of two-deep safety looks that left fewer defenders near the line of scrimmage, so they just kept running the ball. That is what Carroll wants. Exploit the weakness of the defense, whatever that may be.
Other teams will likely go back to trying to stack the box with extra defenders to slow the run game. Seattle will then favor the pass as they have done much of the year. Balance.
Special teams deserves a shout out as well. Jason Myers made all his kicks. Travis Homer looked like a blur taking his first carry on a punt fake for 29 yards at a key moment. He also recovered the clinching fumble on the final kickoff. Michael Dickson hit all three of his punts inside the 20 without any return. This was the most complete game of the season for the special teams.
No team in the NFL has faced a tougher schedule to this point than the Seahawks. Their only losses were to the 10-2 Ravens and Saints. So much attention is paid to how Seattle might be a few plays away from a lesser record. What I see is a team that is a few plays away from an even better record and even easier victories. The revisionist history brewing about the 49ers game is a perfect comical example.
Everyone talks about the missed field goal from San Francisco’s backup kicker (nevermind that their starting kicker has missed a ton of kicks all year including against the Ravens), and fails to acknowledge the dropped Seahawks interceptions that should have ended the game multiple times or how close Seattle was to breaking it open before Wilson was face-masked into a fumble.
Let them underestimate this team. They do not understand them. Let them explain away their victories. They can keep the losses. This Seahawks team defies expectations and explanation. They refuse to fit neatly into a red-ribboned box. They are the gift wrapped in ragged paper, with a craggly-written card, that contains a present full of heart and depth that cannot be purchased from a shelf. They are in first place, and more presents are ahead.