Sunday, November 6, 2005
Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Arizona
Play Of The Day: Shaun Alexander’s 88-yard TD run, which started the second half with a bang. Alexander left the field with 3:30 remaining in the first half – the official word was that he had an “upset stomach”. Whatever it may have been (and since this isn’t “Beavis and Butthead”, we’ll let you draw your own conclusions), he certainly came out for the second half with an extra – ummm – spring in his step. The beneficiary of excellent blocking by TE Jerramy Stevens and RT Sean Locklear, Alexander took the handoff outside right, cut back in, eluded a few whiffed tackles, and was off to the races.
The run matched the longest in Alexander’s NFL career. He had an 88-yarder in 2001 against Oakland – the team record for a TD run. This was the longest run ever allowed by the Cardinals in their 80+-year Chicago/St. Louis/Phoenix/Arizona History. That TD also tied Alexander with Kansas City’s Priest Holmes for the most total touchdowns by any player since the beginning of the 2001 season – Alexander’s 14-yard score in the 4th quarter would make him the sole holder of that prestigious mark, with 84 to Holmes' 83.
Runner-up: With :54 left in the first quarter, Arizona’s Kurt Warner threw a 13-yard out to his left to Larry Fitzgerald. CB Marcus Trufant, who appeared to be running a deeper route, spun around, came back and grabbed his first interception of the year. It was a real highlight in a season that has seen some questionable play from the third-year cornerback.
Handouts To The Standouts: Marquand Manuel, for leading the team in tackles with nine (three assists), and knocking the Shipp out of Arizona RB Marcel, Hamlin-style…Bryce Fisher, for picking up two sacks in the same week he was named a Captain in the Air National Guard…Joe Jurevicius, for continuing to prove the wisdom of a modest one-year deal that made precious few waves when it was announced…Jerramy Stevens, for his stellar blocking…the offensive line overall, for what may have been the most cohesive display so far this season…and, of course, the one and only Shaun Alexander, for continuing his total beatdown on the rest of the NFL.
Things That Made Me Go, “Blech!”: Once again, very worrisome special teams, and that dastardly defensive soft zone in the late third and early fourth quarters.
Offense: From the Seahawks’ very first offensive play, the Cardinals displayed their aggressiveness on defense, as well as their ability to erase their own forward progress with boneheaded mistakes. Matt Hasselbeck was sacked by Chike Okeafor at the Seattle 24, but an illegal contact penalty negated the sack. That bit of mutual ugliness out of the way, the Seahawks began a 12-play, 63-yard drive that ate up seven minutes and featured a healthy dose of Shaun left, Shaun right and Shaun up the middle. The drive ended in a 26-yard Josh Brown field goal, tying the game at 3. Arizona’s long opening drive effectively devoured the first half of the first quarter – this was the last time Cardinal fans could hope for any sign of relative equality between the teams.
The offense turned up the heat from the second drive on, as three of the next four drives ended in touchdowns. Offensive line play was the hallmark of the second drive’s key play – Alexander’s 19-yard run to the left which began the second quarter. Guards Steve Hutchinson and Chris Gray pulled left with textbook form. Alexander headed outside and cut back inside, using the wave of blocking as a guide. Displaying every aspect of his multi-faceted talent on this day, Alexander was a complete terror - his cuts were seamless, he ran hard both inside and outside, and his vision while running was exceptional. His ability to find the smallest of holes in a line would benefit him on a team with weaker protection – with a line playing like this, Alexander ran out of his mind, totaling 173 yards on 23 carries, including the aforementioned 88-yarder. With Philly’s Brian Westbrook reportedly re-upping with the Eagles for five more years and $25 million, Seattle had best look hard at the time they have left to sign Shaun Alexander. Prototype West Coast Offense or not, a rushing attack like this is a rare and beautiful thing.
Matt Hasselbeck was more of a game manager here – eschewing gaudy stats for an efficient approach which ensured no loss of momentum. The Seahawks’ QB was responsible for the game’s first touchdown, a 4-yard pass to Joe Jurevicius with 13:11 remaining in the second quarter. Jurevicius’ savvy was evident in the way he noticed a linebacker frozen in coverage by the need to watch Alexander. Jurevicius kicked out to the right, and got a free release for the easy score. That was his fifth TD of the season, and his 29th catch overall. With both Darrell Jackson and Bobby Engram out, Jurevicius stepped up and kept the passing game going. Not bad for an afterthought free-agent signing in the offseason! Now that Engram is back, Hasselbeck has two “go-to” guys – an enormous improvement from the unreliability of his receivers in years past.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing, though – Seattle’s third drive ended when Arizona’s DBs began playing more aggressive press coverage from the line of scrimmage. This was a continuation of the Cowboys’ strategy against the Seahawks two weeks ago – with no perceived deep threat, the idea is to bash Seattle’s wideouts from the word “go” and make them elude such tactics.
That works when you aren’t facing the NFL’s leading rusher. When you are, you must ease up to provide help in the second and third waves.
One notable play occurred with :50 remaining in the first half – Hasselbeck got a nice swing pass off to RB Maurice Morris on the left side, which was originally thought to go 13 yards for a touchdown. Morris was later called out of bounds at the one-yard line (Hasselbeck would run the ball in over right tackle for the TD on the next play). The exceptional aspect was the absolutely crushing block by C Robbie Tobeck on DT Ross Kolodziej. Tobeck has taken (and earned) his share of shots this year, but he played a marvelous game on this day.
The second half’s opening salvo, Alexander’s record TD run, pretty much blew the game apart. And that was fortunate, because Seattle’s second-half offense didn’t quite match up. Arizona, with little left to lose, brought more pressure late and ran more interesting defensive schemes. Still, Alexander was tough to stop when all the gears were turning – his fourth-quarter TD run of 14 yards ended a drive featuring some gorgeous moves by #37, and destructive blocking by Hutchinson. Arizona DE Darnell Dockett is surely still feeling the B-gap piledriver Hutch laid on him with 7:30 left in the game.
Defense: The Cardinals came into this game with two enormous offensive liabilities – a patchwork offensive line, and a running attack which hadn’t scored a touchdown all season. Surprisingly, Arizona established a decent foundation with the run on their first drive with backs Marcel Shipp and J.J. Arrington. Unfortunately, that effectiveness (27 yards on five total carries) didn’t last. The Cards were outgained by the Seahawks, 208 yards to 71, on the ground.
As the game got further and further away from Arizona, quarterback Kurt Warner aired it out with his talented receivers, Larry Fitzgerald and Bryant Johnson. Unfortunately for Warner, he no longer brings his former MVP form to that increased focus on the aerial game – his four sacks and three picks told the tale.
Arizona tried a little trickery in the second quarter – such as the 9-yard right end Warner/Shipp/Fitzgerald reverse – but that was followed immediately by Manuel’s crushing hit on Shipp on a left inside run. Able to move the ball toward the end of the second quarter (thanks to some uncalled holds from the completely overmatched center Nick Leckey…I mean, the next time you want to complain about Tobeck, take a good look at THIS guy!) Arizona was unable to register more than two field goals in the first half. Seattle simply provided too many dangers.
The second half saw a gradual unraveling of Seattle’s defense – the Cardinals matched the Seahawks in scoring in the third quarter with q 10-spot – but it was never enough to get Arizona back in the game. Warner’s stats (334 yards passing, but he only had 116 at the end of the first half) only got a bump when interim defensive coordinator John Marshall (subbing for the hospitalized Ray Rhodes) called off the dogs with softer zone schemes.
Towards the end of the game, the Seahawks found their aggressiveness again and socked the game away. Jordan Babineaux’ interception at the Seattle 30 with 3:18 left in the game was the last straw. The Cardinals’ last play was Fisher’s second sack of Warner, Rocky Bernard causing a fumble, and Joe Tafoya recovering the ball. This play personified the increased unity with which Seattle’s defensive line works these days.
Special Teams: From the 15-yard face mask penalty called on Maurice Morris on an Arizona kickoff return at the end of the first quarter, to the Jimmy Williams punt return fumble at the end of the SECOND quarter (recovered by Babineaux and negated in the end by an unsportsmanlike conduct call against the Cardinals – and what were they thinking, sending Williams out for the re-kick?)…well, Seattle’s special teams proved to be anything but yet again. The one mitigating factor was the 45-yard Josh Scobey kickoff return in the third quarter, but then again, there was that blocked PAT in the fourth on Alexander’s second touchdown.
At some point, the Seahawks will face an evenly matched team, and their sub-par special teams will upend them and cost them a crucial game.
It’s only a matter of time….
Summary: By sweeping the Cardinals with a dominant road win, these Seahawks continue to defy the past. No longer the hare-brained, weak-willed foldmasters of eons past, today’s Seattle team is a tough, resilient bunch who amass wins both ugly and pretty.
Next Sunday, a new level of “demythologizing” will be required, as the St. Louis Rams come back to Qwest Field. Should they win that contest, a 7-2 record, a virtual lock on the NFC West championship, and a new level of possible conference dominance await them.
Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET. Feel free to e-mail him at email@example.com.