Sunday, November 13, 2005
Qwest Field, Seattle, Washington
We know you’re been a little unsure about us…and upon reflection, we can’t really blame you. We went through a tumultuous off-season, in which 16 free agents dangled and the balance of power in the front office was completely altered. We’ve had injuries to players and coaches. Our starting free safety, one of our defensive leaders, is lost for the season and maybe longer.
But there were things going on while you were busy anointing the Rams or Cardinals as the kings of the NFC West. We cast aside every malcontent who believed his own performance trumped the team’s, based on the modus operandi of a team president who would accept nothing less than a total adherence to the team concept from anyone. We drafted our franchise middle linebacker for the next ten years, and you were too busy telling us how slow and small he was. We drafted another stud linebacker in the third round, and you simply ignored it.
We brought in free agents who were not quite as glamorous as some were – while we watched our own Ken Lucas, and prized free agents Edge Hartwell and Peter Boulware head off to other cities, we contented ourselves with Jamie Sharper, Andre Dyson and Kelly Herndon. When Chike Okeafor bailed for “greener pastures”, we picked up Bryce Fisher for a third of the price Okeafor extracted from the Arizona Cardinals.
While you weren’t paying attention, America, we had a plan.
Your fears about our ability to make the leap to that elite level seemed validated by frustrating losses to Jacksonville and Washington…but those disappointments aside, you now simply must notice that this is a different team.
We have swept the Arizona Cardinals, the supposed Young Turks of the NFC West.
We have swept the St. Louis Rams, our bete noire and your personal favorite.
We do not expect the credit we deserve - after all, we know that on a national level, you’ll be too busy covering the further exploits of a T.O.xic wide receiver who isn’t even playing right now – not to mention the further over-hyping of a second-year Manning who threw four picks today.
At home, no less.
However, you’re going to begin to make yourselves look very, very stupid if you don’t wake the hell up and realize that these are NOT THE SAME OLD SEAHAWKS.
This team can win in dominant fashion (ask the Houston Texans), but more often than not, it’s the close ones – the nailbiters – the “winning ugly” that sets this Seahawks team apart from others. With or without key starters…with or without coaches. In the face of adversity that would have crushed previous Seahawks teams – it simply does not matter. We will find a way to win – as a team commitment.
During Passover Seders, people of Jewish faith ask themselves, “Why is this night different from all other nights?”
For Seahawks fans of any faith, the answer is simple:
This is the night the Seattle Seahawks introduced themselves to the NFL’s elite plane – without question or qualification.
Wake up, America.
You have been warned.
Your Seattle Seahawks
Play Of The Day: With 5:05 left in the third quarter, Seattle faced 2nd and 12 at the St. Louis 31. Matt Hasselbeck went play action to Shaun Alexander and put his touch on as pretty a deep pass as you’ll ever see. The ball sailed over the head of CB Travis Fisher and right into Hackett’s hands at the 3. The second-year receiver sauntered into the end zone for his first touchdown. That TD put Seattle up, 24-6, leaving little doubt as to who the victor would be (if you just could have erased all those past fourth-quarter collapses from your mind)…
Runner-up: Several Shaun Alexander runs could make the cut here, but there’s another name that deserves some props. With 4:34 remaining in the first quarter, Hasselbeck handed off to Alexander at the St. Louis 15-yard line. Alexander reversed his field from left to right, and lost three yards on the play when he was tackled by LB Pina Tinoisamoa.
However, what should not be overlooked on that play is the absolutely crushing block that RT Sean Locklear laid on DE Leonard Little as Alexander headed back right, avoiding a loss of another five yards. Little was absolutely pancaked, and that play typified the great day Locklear had – Little didn’t touch Hasselbeck all day, and was limited to two tackles and two assists.
Zebra Hunt: There are four NFL officials who I know will always be grist for the MMQB mill: Tom White, Walt Coleman, Mike Carey…and today’s alleged official, Jeff Triplette. Should any of those gentlemen hack and bungle their way through a Seahawks game, I know I’ll be writing about it, without exception. So, without further ado, here were the goofups:
1. With 3:45 left in the first quarter, Hasselbeck threw from the St. Louis 18 to TE Jerramy Stevens. Tinoisamoa bumped Stevens out of the route inside the 5-yard line, and Mike Furrey intercepted the pass at the Seattle 1. It was obvious illegal contact on Tinoisamoa, and there was no call. Special boo-boo prize goes to Chad Eaton on the Seahawks post-game show for asserting that Hasselbeck “should have kept his poise” instead of relating his displeasure to the official. Bunk, Chad – sheer bunk. If Hasselbeck talks about it after the game, he gets nailed with a $10k fine. Where is he supposed to talk about it?
2. Michael Boulware’s interception at Seattle’s 9-yard line of a seemingly wayward Marc Bulger pass from the Seattle 44 with 4:31 left in the first half was aided by a Kelly Herndon “leg-lock” with WR Kevin Curtis at about the Seahawk 33. Another illegal contact non-call leading to an interception. Offsetting incompetence is NOT the way to call a game, guys!
3. Triplette’s piece de resistance came with 4:17 left in the third quarter, when Bulger threw to Curtis from his own 47. Kelly Herndon was called with defensive pass interference when Curtis obviously initiated contact with a pushoff, Herndon did not return the contact, and Herndon’s gaze was directed at the ball in the air when the contact happened. The penalty put the ball on the Seattle 22 – a 31-yard gain. The Rams would later troll for more PI calls, and Triplette would prove a willing mark.
4. With 8:48 remaining in the game, Hasselbeck threw an incomplete pass to Bobby Engram from his own 13. Engram appeared to fall down about 20 yards downfield without any contact, but another Seahawks receiver (difficult to tell from the camera angle and the speed of the play) was clearly tackled by a Rams defender at the 23 before the ball passed that receiver. There was no contact call.
5. With 8:35 left, CB Andre Dyson was called for defensive pass interference on Torry Holt at the Seattle 13-yard line. A back-angle replay showed no contact that would provide an impediment to Holt catching the ball. It also appeared that Holt caught the ball in bounds anyway…but according to NFL.com’s and ESPN.com’s Gamecenters, the pass was ruled incomplete. If that was the case, the gain went to the dubious penalty as opposed to the catch.
Handouts To The Standouts: Shaun Alexander (duh!), for redefining the Seahawks’ running game every time he puts on the pads…Lofa Tatupu, for taking several more steps forward…subs like Rocky Bernard, Leroy Hill and Rodney Bailey, for stepping up when the need arose…Matt Hasselbeck, for managing the game impressively…D.J. Hackett, for living up to his reputation as a deep threat, and breaking the “press coverage spell” opponents thought they could run on Seattle…Dyson and Boulware, for gutting it out through injuries and playing effectively…Bobby Engram, for re-establishing his position as “Mr. First Down”…Marquand Manuel, for making his way at free safety…and the Seahawks as a TEAM, for casting yet another monkey off their collective backs.
Things That Made Me Go, “Blech!”: A few “heads-ups” to the FOX announcing crew of Curt Menefee and JC Pearson: It’s Travis Fisher, not Jeff Fisher. Jeff Fisher coaches the Tennessee Titans. Travis Fisher plays for the Rams, so I think that’s who you were talking about. Conversely, it’s Craig Terrill, not “Claude”. Different positions, different teams. Steven Jackson is NOT Shaun Alexander. Yes, they are both running backs, but again, different teams.
Oh yeah – we do more in Seattle than listen to 12-year old Pearl Jam songs, throw fish and drink Caramel Macchiatos.
Thank you for doing your homework!
Offense: Seattle’s offense started out hot, driving 61 yards on 14 plays before the aforementioned bogus “interception”. The Rams began the game by alternating between zone and man, trying to throw Hasselbeck off. Seattle’s quarterback was decent at reading coverages and calling audibles – something that really threw him off last season. He’s no Peyton Manning in this regard…but I would imagine that there might be days that Peyton Manning doesn’t want to be Peyton Manning either. Sometimes, it’s good to have some playcalling help.
Those checkoffs caused some miscommunications, such as the first-drive overthrow to Bobby Engram and a crossed-wires episode toward the end of the first half that resulted in Hasselbeck throwing to the wrong side of a wide-open Joe Jurevicius near the end zone. More often than not, the chicanery at the line of scrimmage worked. The Rams brought pressure frequently, but Hasselbeck was not sacked once.
St. Louis was obviously keying on Alexander to start, and the NFL’s leading rusher managed only 10 yards on 5 carries in the first quarter. Hasselbeck contented himself with hitting Jerramy Stevens twice early when the Rams went with man press coverage, and Engram twice when they went zone. Seattle’s second drive was a 3-and out (all three plays were passes). The next drive was where things really opened up, aided as it was by an Alexander 21-yard run and a Hasselbeck 47-yard guided missile to Hackett. 5 plays and 88 yards later, Alexander had capped the drive with a 6-yard TD run – the first of his three on the day.
For Alexander, the second half was the real breakthrough – after gaining only 58 yards in the first half, he gashed the Rams’ defense in the second half with 165 total rushing yards on 33 carries. He went over 1,000 yards for the season in the second quarter and became the first player in NFL history to score at least 15 touchdowns in five consecutive seasons.
Over the last three games, defenses facing Seattle have divined that playing man press against smallish, and/or slowish Seahawk receivers is the way to go. With Darrell Jackson out, the theory seems to have been that quicker routes favored by Seattle’s current lineup would be trumped by more physical opposition. Well…aside from the fact that Joe Jurevicius has been on fire since Jackson was injured, today saw the real debut of D.J. Hackett as another deep threat. And with Jackson still estimated to be a couple of weeks away from a return to the field, Seattle’s “fill-in” wideouts have been remarkably successful in picking up the slack.
This, of course, did not happen last year.
However, the offense proved once again to be impressively efficient when it mattered.
Defense: Indicative of Seattle’s “bend-but-don’t-break” philosophy was the fact that the St Louis Rams, that renowned scoring machine, racked up a grand total of ONE touchdown despite five different trips inside Seattle’s 20-yard line. Perhaps the most impressive was the Ram drive that began the second quarter – St. Louis had three plays from inside Seattle’s 15, and had nothing but a bungled fake field goal to show for it. And this with DT Rocky Bernard (knee) and CB Andre Dyson (back) leaving the field with injuries – both players would later return. The Rams’ first three drives totaled 24 plays, 128 yards, and 3 points.
Seattle’s defenders were effective with press coverage – Herndon, in particular, was nailing Kevin Curtis at the line – but this factor was offset by the disturbing inability of Seattle’s defenders to wrap up and tackle in space. In the second half, St Louis began pounding the ball more with Steven Jackson. But as Seattle’s lead increased from 10-3 to 24-6 halfway through the third quarter, Bulger and his crew had no choice but to pass.
This imbalance would prove fatal. The Seahawks in previous years may have known what an opponent was going to do, but their ability to stop a gameplan has not been this consistent since the glory years of Chuck Knox. Seattle began blitzing more in the second half, landing three sacks on Bulger (Hill, Tatupu and Bernard) – all in the third quarter.
By the start of the fourth quarter, with the Seahawks up 24-9, it was all about balancing the need to avoid giving up the big play with the natural fear of yet another late-game meltdown.
Those “meltdown days” now appear eons away.
There’s little doubt that Seattle benefited from Holt’s injuries – the Rams’ top receiver was obviously not in peak form as he continues to recover from knee problems – but in the past, it had been the Shaun McDonalds, Kevin Curtises and Dane Lookers who had just as frequently burned the Seahawks. And as Seattle pulled away in the second half, Rams interim coach Joe Vitt could not stick with the bullishly effective rushing attack of Steven Jackson. Jackson rushed for 70 yards on 17 carries, and it’s been the preference of Vitt’s Rams to run a more balanced game. Seattle decided the tempo with which the Rams would work down the stretch, and that was the difference.
Summary: Let’s not put too fine a point on it – this game was the most telling test yet of the Ruskell era. The hypothesis of the Seahawks’ new top man, the idea that character must come first, has been refreshing in theory. In practice, splitting the season series with the Rams and letting them back into the division race would mean far more than such rarefied concerns. However, with the top seed in the NFC at this time, these Seahawks have now proven, beyond the shadow of any doubt, that they are more than a quality team to be reckoned with.
They are an idea whose time has come.
Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET. Feel free to e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.