Note: Our thoughts are with MLB Al Wilson after his scary injury. Hopefully it is nothing serious. Wilson is one of the top linebackers in the game, an emotional leader, and an overall nice person. Hope for a speedy recovery.
Play of The Day: K Josh Brown’s 50 yard field goal with :10 remaining won the game for Seattle. While Brown had missed attempts from 40 and 53 yards early, he shows why he is the NFC’s answer to Colts K Adam Vinatieri with three 4th-quarter kicks. Just stop reading for a second and reflect on just how good Brown is. He’s had an amazing year, and deserves any and all accolades he receives over the next week.
Bringing Their “A” Game: K Josh Brown, for 3 field goals, including the game-winner… DE Darryl Tapp, for an interception returned for a touchdown… OLB Julian Peterson, who only had two tackles, one of them a sack, but also recovered a fumble and provided great pressure all game long… DT Russell Davis, with six tackles and a crucial sack… LB LeRoy Hill, who had seven tackles and played well against the pass… CB Marcus Trufant, who did well in coverage and knocked the ball loose from WR Rod Smith… CB Kelly Jennings, who did very well in the coverage of Javon Walker and forced a fumble on special teams… Ryan Plackemeier, who was key in the Seahawks winning the field goal battle early on, with three punts inside the 20-yard line… WR Darrell Jackson, who did catch 6 passes for 91 yards but did the most damage with his 33 yard reception that put Seattle on the one yard line…
The Bad and the Ugly: Tatum Bell ran all over the defense in the 1st half, though he was stopped in the 2nd half… QB Matt Hasselbeck is clearly not 100% and struggled again today… Seattle suffered numerous delay-of-game penalties and had a critical false-start penalty in with :22 remaining in the game, forcing Seattle to use a time out… Holmgren’s conservative play calling really stifled the offense in the 1st half, despite the defense playing shutout ball… Any play where Champ Bailey is thrown to should be removed from the playbook, as he picked off a pass the one time Seattle challenged him deep… And, worse of all, FB Mack Strong has some sort of ankle injury, a potentially devastating casualty for a FB position that already has two players on IR…
Note to John Madden: Marcus Trufant is a good corner. He is not, as you said, the best player on the defense. He is not even the best player in the secondary, though if he keeps playing as well as he has the past six weeks, that’ll be up for debate.
Referee Report Card: I agree with the announcing crew that the new ref cold-weather uniforms look like bowling outfits. Or prison garb. The officiating from Scott Green's crew was not strong, though it wasn’t awful and it wasn’t biased. It’d be nice if they’d stop penalizing our special teams, though given the coach I imagine that they are committing the penalties. Overall, nothing was too bad, but a few blemishes. B.
Offense: Normally when the other team’s two leading tacklers play cornerback, things go well. Unfortunately, nothing seemed to happen until the fourth quarter. For the first half, QB Matt Hasselbeck was downright awful. Sure, five drops by the offense in the first half didn’t help, but even on his completions he wasn’t gaining useful yards. Someone needs to beat into Hasselbeck’s head that gaining 4 yards on 3rd-and-11 is not a good way to score points, especially when the ball in the on the Seahawks 20 yard line. Yet again, Hasselbeck came back stronger in the second half, throwing a 33-yard pump-and-go to WR Darrell Jackson and moving the chains on the final, game-winning drive.
Two problems plagued Hasselbeck throughout the game. The first was poor clock management. The Seahawks suffered three delay-of-game penalties in the first half alone, and rushed several other plays. In a shocking twist from last season, teams seem to have figured out where the ball is going when Hasselbeck audibles, including audibles to different pass formations. A lot of credit goes to the Denver fan base, which didn’t sound especially loud on television but clearly had an effect on the offense.
The second problem involved dropped passes. WR Darrell Jackson, TE Jerramy Stevens, and FB Mack Strong each had at least two drops. Strong is a fullback, and honestly doesn’t do a whole lot with the football even when he catches it. Stevens and Jackson, on the other hand, have a lot to explain. Jackson at least finished with a solid game, almost scoring what would have been his 10th touchdown, but Stevens accomplished squat, catching 2 passes for 12 yards. Early in games, Matt needs to establish a rhythm with his receivers, and dropped passes kill that rhythm.
Hasselbeck wasn’t helped by Holmgren’s conservative play calling. Holmgren admitted in the post-game interview that he wanted to come out conservative to avoid turnovers, but his plan to avoid turnovers also caused the offense to avoid points. Because the team was dropping passes, the offense never had the opportunity to get in rhythm and the conservative passes kept Seattle from making a big play to that could change the momentum of the game. Ironically, one of the two times Holmgren threw deep, it was to the immortal Champ Bailey, who picked the pass off.
Holmgren couldn’t jumpstart the passing game, but he did do one very uncharacteristic thing – he kept with the running game. Given that Seattle spent much of the game behind, and RB Shaun Alexander didn’t instantly rush for 100 yards, it would have been unsurprising if Holmgren shelved the running game in the second half. Instead, Holmgren force-fed Alexander the ball, using Alexander to start drives off with positive yardage and gain the short chunks needed for first downs. While the 3rd-and-long draw passes need to end, Holmgren seems to have enough faith in Alexander’s foot to keep the ball in his hands.
Defense: The biggest question surrounding Sunday’s game revolved around new starting QB Jay Cutler. The rookie from Vanderbilt was taken in the first round of the 2006 NFL draft. As if that didn’t make expectations high enough, he also looked like a mix of Brett Favre and Peyton Manning in the preseason. Broncos’ head coach Mike Shanahan made the decision to start Cutler against the Seahawks, only to find out that Cutler isn’t the god that many Bronco fans believed him to be. In fact, Cutler looked downright bad, throwing a comically bad interception to DE Darryl Tapp that would’ve been intentional grounding if Tapp hadn’t caught it. Blitzes seemed to work especially well against Cutler, and he’ll need to adjust in order to survive in the NFL.
But the blame for the loss doesn’t hinge entirely on Cutler’s shoulders. Denver lost an astonishing three fumbles, including one on special teams. Fumblemania hit Denver at the perfect time for Seattle, killing drives for Denver and giving Seattle excellent field position. The Denver offensive line also had trouble handling blitzes, as Cutler was sacked three times and hit several more. A lot of credit has to go to Defensive Coordinator John Marshall, who used an effective mix of blitzes and varying coverage schemes to confuse the rookie quarterback.
Of course, even the best coordinators would have trouble protecting the feeble Seahawks left (offensive right) side. When the starting left cornerback is Kelly Herndon, the starting safety is either the former CB Jordan Babineaux or benched SS Michael Boulware, it’s hard not to look bad. For example, on rookie WR Brandon Marshall’s 71-yard touchdown reception, all three members of the secondary had a chance to tackle him. It was a simple flat pattern, the kind that usually results in a five-yard gain. Instead, Marshall wiggled out of three tackles and outran LB Lofa Tatupu to the end zone.
Another worry remains the running game. While Seattle shut down both Bells in the 2nd half, early in the game they ran all over Seattle, mixing in long runs with runs that still picked up positive yardage. Tatum Bell is a quality NFL RB, a guy with a lot of speed and decent size. However, he isn’t as elusive as Seattle made him look. Poor tackling seems to be an epidemic on a team that was suppose to be a very solid tackling team. Exception goes to LB LeRoy Hill, who tackled extremely well.
Not tackling well, but not needing to, is CB Kelly Jennings. Welcome to the NFL, this time covering one of the top Wide Receivers in the game: Javon Walker. Walker looked healed from an ACL injury that caused him to miss almost all of 2005, but Jennings did an excellent job in coverage, allowing only one reception all game. Jennings looked like he had an interception in the end zone on one deep pass to Walker, but ended up losing the ball and came up holding his arm. Jennings continued to play, but the angle his arm bent didn’t look good. Seattle looks to be giving Jennings an expanded role on passing downs, keeping CB Kelly Herndon from covering top wideouts.
Special Teams: Penalties, Penalties, Penalties! Nate Burleson continues to dazzle when the football is in his hands – he also evaded a tackle on offense – but all of his best returns get called back due to stupid holding penalties. Josh Brown and Ryan Plackemeier continue to be absolutely money, Plackemeier had a great game and kept Denver near their own goal-line. Credit also to Jennings and Brown, Jennings forced a fumble on a return and Brown finished it off with an aesthetically pleasing tackle on return man Darrent Williams.
Conclusion: It’s hard not to be excited about this win. Sure, Seattle looked putrid, and had Jake Plummer been the starting QB the game would likely have been a loss, but Seattle passed one of the toughest tests on it’s schedule. This team continues to come out stale in the first half, but second-half heroics are what this team lives for, and hopefully they can bring out their “A-Game” all four quarters against the Arizona Cardinals next Sunday. A win against Arizona and a 49ers loss would secure the division for Seattle, and put the Seahawks in a strong position to win the 2nd seed in the NFC.
Kyle Rota is our MMQB, and is also known as "Rotak" on our message boards. You can e-mail him here.