The Morning After: Polished Penny Shines in Seahawks 33-13 Win
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There are those who feel no compassion for professional athletes, especially men who were picked in the first round of the NFL draft and paid millions of dollars. It gets worse if the player selected was not a popular pick or one that received much praise locally or nationally. The challenge grows further when the player plays the same position as a recently departed franchise legend who was beloved. Just to top it off, your general manager decides to talk about a terrific durability grade before a snap is taken in a league where the injury rate is 100% and at a position that has among the shortest NFL careers. Rashaad Penny was never going to live up to the value of a first round draft pick, especially in a draft where the Seahawks passed on Nick Chubb. He most likely is playing his last handful of games for Seattle. He has been beaten down by injuries and relentless criticism on social media. On Sunday, he became the first Seahawks player to have two rushing touchdowns of 30+ yards since Steve Broussard did it in 1997. No matter what he has, or has not, done for our favorite football team, it should be easy to celebrate a young man persevering and having the chance to feel some pride when he looks in the mirror.
Penny showed signs of being ready to have a big game last week when he ran as hard as he ever has in a win over San Francisco. Seattle swept the 49ers, by the way. His rushing totals were not impressive but he was running with a force we have not seen from him in previous seasons. Despite being the largest back on the Seahawks roster, Penny has never run with much ferocity and has been quick to go down on contact. He has been a boom or bust back. When there is a sizable hole, he is the Seahawks best home run threat out of the backfield. As good as Chris Carson has been, he has never been a big play back. When there is not a big hole, Penny has tended to run right into the back of the nearest offensive linemen and fall to the ground for no gain.
Not against San Francisco. He was slamming into defenders and moving them a yard or two. That might have seemed inconsequential to most observers, but it stood out to me. He also threw his body into a blitz pickup. This, from a guy who has had a litany of injuries that have kept him out of games and likely robbed him of a lot of money in his next contract. He could have easily been thinking about how to preserve his body while playing for a 3-8 football team. He was not. He played with more heart and courage than in almost any of his previous three years in the NFL. I respect that.
The schedule worked in his favor as the next game was against the worse run defense in the NFL. Still, the Seahawks offensive line has been as bad at run blocking as they have at pass blocking and their starter at right tackle, Brandon Shell, was going to be out with injury. That meant a rookie, Jake Curhan, would start in his place.
Instead of hindering Penny, Curhan was a key to the performance. The rookie struggled in pass protection at times, but has a number of brilliant run blocks. He finished with a near elite Pro Football Focus run blocking grade of 88.4. Penny made the most of every crease, bursting through the line and looking like he might break every handoff the distance.
His first two runs went for 9 and 13 yards. That might not seem all that notable but the Seahawks running game has been so bad, the 13 yard run was the longest since DeeJay Dallas had a 15-yard run four weeks ago against the Cardinals. Before that, the last 13+ yard run was eight weeks ago by Travis Homer against the Steelers. And no, I do not count the Homer fake punt as a running play in the same regard as a play against a defense. This has been one of the most feckless rushing teams in the NFL. You can’t even refer to it as a rushing attack. It’s been more like a rushing suggestion.
Penny would finish the day with five rushing plays of 9+ yards. No Seahawks runner has done that since Carson had six such rushes against the Panthers in 2019.
Shane Waldron did his best to blow it by yanking Penny at bizarre times and calling some terrible plays like a 3rd and 2 toss play that was doomed no matter who was running. I like Alex Collins, but he was nowhere near the runner Penny was in this game behind the same line against the same defense. The coaching staff came to their senses and played Penny almost exclusively in the second half.
His 47-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter was the icing on the game and his performance.
He finished with 137 yards on 16 carries and 2 TDs. There has only been one other time in franchise history a runner has gained 130+ yards on 16 or fewer carries, and that was Broussard in 1997.
This does not mean Penny has arrived and will be great from here on out. It does not mean he will even make it through another game without being injured. It does mean he is a special talent and a kid who went through years of dark days to finally come out of the tunnel and see some light. In a season of mostly depressing storylines, that is one worth cheering for.
We also got to witness Russell Wilson having his second straight solid game that looked much more like the player we have all come to know over the years. He was able to overcome his typical shortcomings like off-target throws to DK Metcalf and some blindness to open players underneath, with his typical strengths of brilliant deep throws and extending plays outside the pocket.
He even sprinkled in a few quick passes over the middle, mainly to tight ends. His game was efficient and productive and resulted in a lot of points. That is who Wilson is. All this talk of him being broken or done was silly. There are absolutely the same questions he needs to answer about whether he can carry a team when when the offense does not have a working running game and the opposing defense just sits in a two-deep zone daring him to hit short and intermediate throws, but you can see how powerful he can be when paired with a good running game and solid defense.
Seattle rushed for almost 200 yards in this game. They also achieved the rare feat of allowing zero sacks.
That was not because the pass protection was excellent or because Wilson was throwing the ball quickly. In fact, he was right back to his normal 2.80 seconds to throw after dipping to 2.25 seconds against the 49ers. It was a combination of very poor pass rush from the Texans and Wilson doing a good job of finding space in the pocket to let plays develop.
The line does deserve some credit for the rushing success. In particular, the right side behind Curhan and Gabe Jackson had a very nice day.
I would love to see Stone Forsythe get some reps at right tackle as he appears to be a better pass protector than Curhan, but Seattle has never prioritized pass protection in the linemen, especially at right tackle.
As a spiteful and quick aside, Phil Haynes got a handful of snaps at left guard and did his usual good job. It drives me crazy that we have had to watch Kyle Fuller play center and backup guard over Haynes. I still believe he should get a shot at center. He cannot be worse than what we have seen at that position this season.
Tyler Lockett had a marvelous game. Not only did he pile up a bunch of yards and touchdowns, but he went over 1,000 yards on the year. That is incredibly impressive given the state of quarterback play for Seattle this year. His footwork and hands are special.
Someone floated the idea that he would not be the same receiver if he played with another quarterback who was not as prolific in deep passes. The implication was that he is a product of Wilson, and would not be good elsewhere. That is ludicrous. Lockett is one of the most complete receivers to ever pull on a Seahawks jersey. He can run crisp timing routes, deep routes, intermediate crossers. He can do the whole route tree. The reason he catches so many deep passes and disappears in other games is that Wilson specializes in deep passes and struggles in some of the other more repeatable routes.
Lockett could very well be a better receiver in terms of numbers if he played with a quarterback that utilized more of his skill set. A lot of the volume numbers come on routes Wilson just does not like to throw. Of course, if Lockett played with one of the dozens of QBs who are worse than Wilson, his numbers would suffer. Both Wilson and Lockett are fortunate to play together and have the chemistry they do.
It is odd how the chemistry has seemed to taken a step back between Wilson and Metcalf this season. Go balls down the sideline that Wilson always gives Lockett a chance to catch are consistently going out of bounds when thrown to Metcalf. Slant routes are thrown behind him. As much as the tendency would be to blame the quarterback, it could be related to how the routes are being run.
For example, receivers will always talk about how important it is to run a go route far enough inside away from the boundary so the quarterback has space to throw it along the sideline. Maybe Metcalf is running too close and not giving Wilson the space he needs. Maybe he is cutting off his slant routes a step too soon. I don’t know how much of it is Wilson and how much is Metcalf. I just know that their connection has seemed more forced and less natural this season.
When they do complete passes, it almost always looks so freaking simple and repeatable and unguardable. That makes it all the more frustrating that they go such long stretches without hooking up and punishing defenses.
Will Dissly had a nice game even with a dropped pass. The tight end room is finally starting to realize some of the potential we had hoped for to start the year. Yes, Gerald Everett had a bad game against the 49ers, but it very easily could have been a great game.
Quick kudos to Freddie Swain for actually returning a few punts in this game, and even gaining some yards.
The defense started this game out horribly. It looked like this might be their worst game of the year considering how bad the Texans offense is. To their credit, they shut out an opponent in the second half for the second straight week.
As aggravating as it was to watch them get dominated by the Texans early in the game, it took a 44-yard trick play kick return and a 61-yard field goal to score more than 10 points. Even allowing 13 points dropped their per game average to 20.2 points per game, good for 5th in the NFL.
I honestly do not care what any other metric says. If I had told you the Seahawks would have a top five scoring defense on the year, every single Seahawks fan would take it.
They are doing it with a near-dominant run defense led by possibly their defensive player of the year in Al Woods. That guy has been a godsend, and makes the Jarran Reed departure arguably a key to this defensive performance this season. It is far less likely the team would have signed Woods had Reed agreed to a restructured deal.
There is no doubt the Seahawks defense is better with Woods than it would have been with Reed, and for far less money.
We saw another good game from Sidney Jones, but have to hope D.J. Reed was not too hurt late in the game. Bless Austin did a decent job when he was in there, but Reed is important to this defense.
Darrell Taylor should have had a two-sack game.
Ryan Neal appeared to have a rough game to start, but settled in. The jury is still out on how this team performs without Jamal Adams.
All of it added up to consecutive wins for the first time all season for Seattle. They did it against a truly terrible team, but Seattle has been terrible themselves plenty of this season. They took care of business, and had some players rise above their typical performance level.
They get a chance to play spoiler again next week in Los Angeles against the Rams, who will be playing the Cardinals tonight on Monday Night Football. Robert Woods tortured them in the first game and will not be there this time. Maybe, just maybe, the Seahawks can pull together again to beat a division rival. As bad as this season has been, I remain interested in seeing how players and coaches respond to this adversity. Should they need any inspiration, they need look no further than the guy wearing the #20 jersey.