The Morning After: Seahawks find footing, halt Cardinals 28-21

We are familiar with agony and ecstasy as Seahawks fans. While we tend to focus on our own experience, it cannot be easy for most opposing fans either. Conspiracy theorists could make a case Pete Carroll and his crew have been put on this earth to drive pharmaceutical and alcohol sales. Oh, and don’t forget Big Nacho. They are in cahoots with Carroll as well. I have probably consumed 10% of all the calories in my lifetime either preparing for, or recovering from, a Seahawks game. That tumult is part of what has felt so wrong the past few weeks. Seattle fans have had plenty, but opponents have had little. Buffalo and Los Angeles beat the Seahawks rather easily. While we were searching for anything to forget or dull the pain, they were breathing freely and saying, “Namaste,” to one another. That stopped Thursday night. Carroll and the Seahawks sent Cardinals fans back to the bottle and the therapist’s couch with a promising and tendency breaking victory that could very well change the course of the season for a number of teams.

Seattle needed this game. They needed this game so badly that for the first time in maybe a decade, I stayed off Twitter most of the day and throughout the game. Check my timeline. I was a ghost. Every tweet I was seeing early in the day was either venting about how the Seahawks were going to blow it or detailing the statistical magnitude of this single game.

The statistical site FiveThirtyEight.com offers game-by-game probabilities of what happens if a team wins or loses. A win yesterday for Seattle would move their playoff odds from 87% to 95%, and their chances to win the division rise from 38% to 50%. A loss would drop their playoff odds to 74% and the division odds to a scant 12%. So, win and you are at 95% for the playoffs and 50% to win the division, lose and you are 74% and 12%. That’s what you call a big game.

I could not physically handle the implications or the anxiety of others. Watching these games at home does not help. I desperately needed to be at Lumen Field screaming my lungs out. I simply cannot process the stress at home without terrorizing my wife. Maybe that is another ingenious part of Carroll’s master plan. He causes stress so we scream louder. Diabolical.

I was as hard on Carroll and Russell Wilson in my last Morning After column as I have ever been. Both men were not doing anything close to what their team needed from them. Both took a step forward against Arizona.

Carroll is responsible for everything that happens on the Seahawks. When they were giving up 44 points to the Bills and 17 straight points to the Rams, that was his responsibility. When they were the hottest offense in the NFL and Wilson was on an MVP pace, that was his responsibility. That’s the job. What stood out most about his performance against the Cardinals was how the team was able to defense what was the #1 offense in the league in terms of yards per game.

This was a team that had scored 30+ points in five straight, and had at least 438 yards in each of those games. They had been held under 400 yards just twice all season. Seattle held them to 21 points and 317 yards in what was without question their best defensive game of the season.

This did not look anything like the defense we had seen to this point in the year. They were disciplined and consistent. They mixed blitzes and coverage. Explosive pass plays were the exception, not the rule. And that pass rush…we have to talk about that pass rush.

Seattle finished with 28 quarterback pressures in this game, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF). That was their highest total of the season, and was nearly twice the total they had in the first game against Arizona (15). Seattle had 3 sacks and 7 QB hits, compared to 0 and 0 in the first game.

Carlos Dunlap, by himself, had 7 pressures, including 2 sacks, a QB hit, and 4 hurries. Dunlap has 3.5 sacks in three games with Seattle. He has been a top ten edge rusher since joining the Seahawks. He has more sacks in three games than Jadeveon Clowney had all of last season. The Seahawks leader in sacks last year was Rasheem Green, with 4.0. Getting Dunlap for a 7th round pick may go down as one of John Schneider’s best moves. And don’t forget the team has him under contract for next year as well.

Poona Ford continued his pass rush emergence with 5 pressures. He now has 10 in the past three games, and 15 over the past five. He had a total of 5 in the first five games.

Jarran Reed had a couple of pressures, including a key QB hit on 3rd down on the Cardinals final drive that forced an early throw from Kyler Murray before Dunlap finished it off with his sack.

Jamal Adams had 5 pressures of his own, including a crucial one when the Cardinals took the ball back down by just two points, and Adams was able to force Murray into an intentional grounding call. That led to L.J. Collier drawing a holding penalty in the endzone that resulted in a safety. Collier also had a sack earlier.

Almost impossibly, the Seahawks rank 10th in the NFL in sacks per game. There is reason to hope the pass rush will get better as Benson Mayowa heals and Darrelle Taylor returns in the coming weeks.

This defense just looked different. No player was more emblematic of that change than Adams. He seemed to be utilized is a far more conventional way, with fewer frantic feints at the line that have left him struggling to get back in coverage in past weeks. He made plays in the run game, not just as a pass rusher. This was his most solid performance since week one.

The defense looked so different I have to wonder if Carroll took over play calling duties from Ken Norton Jr. It just seemed like a more thoughtful scheme than what we have seen.

Part of the improvement has to be attributed to more competent cornerback play. Tre Flowers and DJ Reed Jr. were solid, if not spectacular. That is a far cry from the abysmal performances we were seeing from Quinton Dunbar. Shaquill Griffin is set to return for the next game, and that’s good news, but the team now has legitimate options should he struggle, and there is no rush to get Dunbar back.

I happen to still believe Dunbar can be a better playmaker for this team than Flowers when he is healthy, but that becomes a luxury instead of a desperate need.

Ugo Amadi also played well, meaning the team now has a bevy of options at nickel corner. Reed is going to be tough to pull off the field as he has shown up in coverage, as a blitzer, in run defense and even as a kick returner. Where would the team be without him?

Quandre Diggs even would have had his first great game if he had not made such a boneheaded mistake to make contact with Deandre “Delicate as a Rose Petal” Hopkins when the ball was nowhere near them. That personal foul cost the team seven points. Diggs did have a big breakup in the middle of the field later and at the end of the game on second down.

This defense allowed just over 3 yards per play in the second half against Buffalo. They did the same thing against the Rams in the second half. They gave up just 5 yards per play for the whole game against the Cardinals. They set a season low for points allowed twice in four days (23 against the Rams, then 21 against the Cardinals). They have allowed 27 points in the past six quarters after allowing 61 points in the previous six quarters. There is reason to at least be hopeful this defense can be better than the worst in the history of the sport.

They play a series of terrible offenses the rest of the way, and could gain some needed confidence to close the season.

Let’s talk about the offense. As bad as the defense has been, the Seahawks probably would have won all but one of their games this year if they had turned the ball over less. This was just the third time all year they did not turn the ball over in a game. They are undefeated in those contests and have won by an average of ten points.

Wilson played a far more conservative game than what we have seen so far. He tucked and ran quickly a number of times instead of holding the ball in the pocket trying to wait for a play to develop. Ignore the media who are saying the Seahawks changed to a more balanced offense with 31 rushes and 28 passes. That is completely misleading.

In fact, Seattle had 28 pass attempts, but all 10 of Wilson’s runs were scrambles after a pass play was called. Then you add in the 3 sacks, and you get a total of 41 pass plays called to 21 run plays. This idea that the Seahawks completely flipped their offensive script and became a run-heavy team again is flat wrong.

Carlos Hyde had the most carries, and that was just fourteen. What was different was the Seahawks ran effectively. They finished with 165 yards rushing and over 5 yards per carry. There were big chunk rushes by every ball carrier. Hyde played a good game, but a lot of the credit goes to the offensive line, led by Mike Iupati and Duane Brown.

People underestimate how important Iupati has been. I questioned his signing this offseason, but it has proven to be a great deal.

Damien Lewis got the surprise start at center, and while he had some understandable mishaps in his first ever game at the position on just a couple days of practice, he was powerful in the run game as usual. His ability to potentially shift there opens up some interesting options for the team next year as Ethan Pocic is in the last year of his deal.

The big news was the ankle injury to Brandon Shell. We have to hope it is not too severe as he has been critical to the teams success thus far. Cedric Ogbuehi stepped in and was not very good. We could see Jamarco Jones slide out to right tackle if Shell can’t go. Pocic should be back next game, so Lewis can move back to his right guard spot.

Wilson had a good game. It was error free. It was also pretty conservative. He seemed to be thinking a lot about protecting the ball. That may sound good, but this team is at its best when Wilson is feeling his most confident. He can build off this performance, but I want to see him and his coaches return to believing they can be aggressive and he can make good decisions.

There were very few passes down the field. It is good to see them showcase a different style of offense for teams to contend with. It just would be a mistake and overcorrection to eschew the deep ball prowess of Wilson.

Oh, and we can put to rest any notion that Patrick Peterson is a D.K. Metcalf stopper. Metcalf made the old corner look foolish on multiple occasions. The only thing stopping Metcalf in this game were his own hands. He very well could have had three touchdowns if he did not drop two easy passes.

The team now looks ahead to what is the easiest schedule in the NFL the rest of the way. Their rivals for the division and conference have far tougher roads to travel. We know, though, the Seahawks won’t make this easy on us. Games that should be mismatches will be nail biters. Large leads will shrivel. Inept offenses will look like juggernauts. It is the Seahawks way. The renewed hope is that opposing fans will feel the pain as well, and leave these games searching for nearest comfort carb. This season is just getting started.

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4.1
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