The Morning After: Seahawks Lose to Bad Steelers Team, Cling to Moral Victories Instead

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The last time–and only time–I placed a bet on a Seahawks game was in 2007. Seattle was favored by 2.5 points over a bad Arizona Cardinals team quarterbacked by Matt Leinart with Edgerrin James at running back. I was positive the Seahawks would win that game. It was closer than I expected, but there Seattle was, in range for the game-winning field goal late in the fourth quarter. Matt Hasselbeck took the snap to hand off to Shaun Alexander to center the ball for the field goal attempt, and the unthinkable happened. They fumbled the exchange, and the Cardinals recovered. A few moments later, the Cardinals kicked the winning field goal as time expired. I vowed never to bet on a Seahawks game again.

That held true until yesterday when I decided a very bad Steelers team was much more beatable than the burgeoning point spread indicated. Betting $100 would net you $300 in return if you took Seattle to win straight up. Even though I expected the Steelers to win, it felt like there a legitimate shot for an upset.

That turned out to be true. How it came to be was far different than I imagined. Seattle was invisible on offense for the entire first half. Geno Smith looked timid, and nothing like the player we witnessed against the Rams. The offensive line could not pass protect or run block. The defense was incapable of creating any pressure on a quarterback so old and immobile that fans could be excused for thinking Pittsburgh had already turned him into a statue. Then the special teams made their contribution with truly terrible punt by Michael Dickson and a failed downed punt inside the 5-yard line.

Suddenly, a truly bad Steelers team was up 14-0 without making a single memorable play. This was the outcome most folks expected. What few expected was for the Seahawks to come out of halftime without their star quarterback and without much reason for hope, and to play with aggression and passion and execution.

They took the opening kick of the second half and drove the field with just a single pass. They picked up large chunks of yards as the Steelers came out expecting Seattle to try and get DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett more involved. Alex Collins was terrific. The offensive line was technical and physical. It felt faintly familiar, like a memory you know is real, but cannot quite make out.

Seattle was dictating the game on the ground, and doing it against a physical defensive line. I honestly cannot recall the last time the Seahawks run game set the tone. I definitely remember many attempts to run that looked more like a few 2-3 yard carries and then a failed 3rd down. This was a refreshing throwback to the end of the 2011 season, where after starting 2-6, they finished 5-3 behind a bruising running attack led by Marshawn Lynch after he finally agreed to run the way Tom Cable’s scheme needed him to.

That team had an injured Tavaris Jackson at quarterback, and a defense that was just starting to find its footing. This version of the Seahawks team is not building toward something the way that team was. Still, it was a welcome recall of how impactful a physical ground game can be when deployed and executed well. There is such a crush of focus on the Seahawks passing game that few people have really talked much about how ineffectual the Seahawks rushing attack has been.

There have been statistically decent moments for the run game, but it has been a long time since it was a dominant factor the defense had to prepare for and adjust to. As much as Pete Carroll gets beat up for saying he wants a balanced attack on offense where people assume he wants to run the ball half the time or more, I believe what he really wants is to have the ability to call upon the run game the way they did Sunday night. He wants to be able to run teams out of two high safety looks to make things easier in the pass game.

There is no doubt the Steelers were forced to change their defensive play calling to slow down the freight train of a run game Seattle deployed in the 3rd quarter. Having an offense that can scare defenses through the air and on the ground seems smart and era-independent. Baltimore certainly has not shied away from that identity.

The problem in this game was the team was dominant in one phase of their offense for one quarter of the game. The passing game was never a real threat. It improved, but was never good. The run game slowed as the Steelers deployed more men to stop it. Remarkably, that one quarter of dominance from one aspect of the offense was enough to create a winnable game.

It appeared Seattle would do just that when they recovered a fumble from Ben Roethlisberger and then Collins ran the ball around the left side for 16 yards to setup a 1st and 10 at the Steelers 19-yard line with around 11 minutes left in the 4th quarter. Instead, the play was called back on a very questionable holding call on Jamarco Jones. Neither of the commentators nor the former official commentating agreed with the call. Knowing how common holding is in the NFL, it usually has to be egregious to draw a flag. This was a bad call that really hurt the Seahawks.

They wound up with zero point on that drive, which probably cost them the game. They would get other chances.

Jamal Adams may never live this game down. He or Darrell Taylor should have intercepted a ball near the goal line in the first half, but saw it fall harmfully to the ground. That was practically a Pro Bowl play when compared to what happened late in the fourth.

Pittsburgh had a 2nd and 15 at the Seattle 46-yard line with just under two minutes remaining in a tie game. They were not in field goal range. Roethlisberger dropped back and threw a pass over the middle that Adams read well and was breaking aggressively to defend. The problem was he was so focused on the receiver and the hit he wanted to make that he never saw the ball coming right to him. It bounced with authority off his facemask.

I have to admit, I laughed. A lot. It was a silly play that also perfectly contributed to the narrative about Adams. It could be the most emblematic moment of this Seahawks season. Watching this team play has felt a lot like what Adams must have felt after that play.

You can be sure many people with stitch together Adams SNF intro video where he declared himself, “best in the nation,” with that play immediately following. He has a ton of work to do in order to avoid that meme defining his career in Seattle. Speaks loudly. Carries a walking stick.

Of course the Steelers were able to gain the necessary yards on the next play to kick what could have been the game-winning field goal. Kudos to Smith and the Seahawks offense for working their way downfield to setup a Jason Myers field goal that sent the game to overtime.

The team had two chances to win the game in overtime, but Smith fumbled on his first scramble of the game, and that was that.

It was hard to watch Smith process that moment. While fans and pundits have long since disregarded his career as a failed starter and marginal backup, Smith had to be looking at this chance to force people to see him in a new light. He was a young starter on a bad Jets team, and really never got another chance after that. He probably feels much wiser and much better prepared to lead a team. Now he was getting a shot on prime time to show the nation the player he sees in the mirror and change the narrative.

He played like he felt that pressure, and his face after the fumble looked like someone who was already hearing and reading the reaffirmation of his place as an incapable player in this league. My heart went out to him.

This game did not really matter much unless you are of the belief that the Seahawks should be making a big run to make the back-end of the playoffs and lose quickly. That is not where my head is at all. Sooner or later, folks will come to realize Seattle has played a series of bad teams, with the exception of Los Angeles (who is overrated), and lost to almost all of them. The question is not whether this team is good. It is just how bad are they?

In situations like that, I pay more attention to young players to look for positive signs. Tre Brown was the flashing light of this game. He made a handful of smart, athletic, quality plays at corner. His tackle in overtime was one of the best Seahawks defensive plays in years. He read the throw, broke hard on the ball, and made a tackle so good it will be shown to high school, college, and pro players across the country as teaching tape. He will need to string games together, but it is rare for a young corner to flash the way he did in this game, which was his first, and not have a promising career ahead.

Taylor was literally the only guy on the Seahawks with any pressure on the quarterback. He did not play great, but he played well. His very scary injury appeared to be not as serious as it looked when he was flown home with the team Sunday night instead of being asked to stay for observation at the hospital.

I thought Kyle Fuller had some really impressive blocks in the run game. DeeJay Dallas had some good kickoff returns and plays on offense. Travis Homer deserves a shout out for some positive plays as well. DJ Reed had a nice game in coverage, and is looked more like the slightly above average corner we expected going into the year.

The Collins injury could be a problem for Seattle as Chris Carson is already on injured reserve. Rashaad Penny is coming of IR this week and could suddenly be the featured back if Collins cannot go. Penny could not ask for a better chance to earn a paycheck.

Smith will get another primetime showcase on Monday Night Football against the Saints. New Orleans is a better team than Pittsburgh. He and the team will need to play much better to have a chance in that game. I certainly will not be putting any money on that one.

Seasons like this tell us who is worth building around and who needs to go. This team has not yet hit rock bottom. It will take everything Carroll has left to keep them playing with effort every week, and that effort will often not be enough to win. The hope is we will see more performances like Tre Brown that will give reasons to hope the dark days will not turn into a dark age.