MMQB: Cardinals 27, Seahawks 21

MMQB: Cardinals 27, Seahawks 21

Note to all Seattle Seahawk football fans: The sky has not fallen, we didn't give up a top 10 draft choice for Deion Branch, Holmgren didn't suddenly become the worst coach in football history, Josh Brown is still a minor deity, suicide is bad, and Seattle still has a very strong grip on the NFC West. Yes, Seattle lost to the Arizona Cardinals, and that sucks.

Yes, this team is not playing as well as last year. This is not a bad football team. It is a wildly inconsistent football team, but there is talent there. Lower your expectations and realize that Seattle may not be a special team, but they’re a good team.

Arizona Cardinals 27, Seattle Seahawks 21
December 10th, 2006
University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona

Play of the Game: On 4th and 20 with less than a minute remaining, QB Matt Hasselbeck completed a 19.5 yard pass to WR Deion Branch, just shy of the first down marker. After that play, the game was over. It also serves as a perfect description of Seattle’s performance in the desert – just barely short. There is one question that needs to be asked – why did Branch (not a strong YAC guy) run a pattern that left him shy of the first down marker?

Bringing Their “A” Game: WR DJ Hackett had another great game – 4 receptions for 104 yards and a score… WR/PR Nate Burleson continues to perform well on special teams and even caught a touchdown pass… P Ryan Plackemeier continues to boom punts all over the field… and… that’s it. We did lose to the Arizona Cardinals.

The Bad and The Ugly: This was the second worst performance I’ve seen from this team this year, behind only the drubbing the team endured at Chicago… The defensive line played awful, getting little pressure, few hits, and no sacks on a rookie QB behind Arizona’s porous offensive line… Arizona’s running game – previously an oxymoron – had a strong performance against Seattle, even on situations where it was painfully obvious a run was coming… Seattle fumbled the ball four times, which made the difference in the game… Run blocking was suspect at best for Seattle’s offensive line… Defensive Coordinator John Marshall has a lot of explaining to do for a very vanilla game-plan…

Referee Report Card: Arizona got away with murder when it came to holding – especially on the defensive ends, who were often held right in front of the official. Otherwise, it was a very solidly officiated game. Early on the laundry was flying everywhere, but in the second half the officials showed unexpected restraint. Overall, a B+.

Offense: If the offense manages to hang onto the football, the Seahawk fanbase is taken off of suicide watch, and Seattle looks like a strong contender for a first round bye. Hasselbeck, Alexander, FB Mack Strong, and WR Darrell Jackson all had fumbles, and they were all critical – three were recovered by the Cardinals, and Jackson’s negated a first down gain. It is just so ironic that when Hasselbeck finally stops throwing the interceptions, the offense lays an egg with four fumbles.

Speaking of Mack Strong, does anybody doubt this is his last year? He is one of the most beloved Seahawks, everybody appreciates his work ethic, and he was a very good blocker for many years, but this season has just been awful. He has been removed from pass-blocking duties because he hasn’t done a good job against the pass rush, he has struggled run blocking, and he has become unreliable with the ball in his hands… At this point, he has very little going for him. It has been a great career, and Seattle should name a street after him, but 2007 will be time to turn the reigns over to Leonard Weaver, or someone else.

Even if Strong were blocking at 2005 levels, Shaun Alexander simply isn’t as good as he was last year. Yes, the offensive line really struggled today and has been inconsistent all year, but this Alexander lacks the burst of last year. A slower Alexander is not the entire problem. Alexander is also running much less decisively than last year – last year he would hit a hole, and then look to cut back. This year, he’s is waiting for the offensive line to create something, but this line isn’t able to create anything. It really is a lost year for Alexander, compared to his previous greatness.

Mike Holmgren is responsible for a lot of the offensive woes. It is not his fault that the offense fumbled the ball four times, but it really felt like Seattle could’ve hurt Arizona much more than they did, even with the fumbles. Where are the short passes and slants that have defined the Seahawk offense this century? Whatever happened to the bootlegs that Seattle used to great effect last year? More than the West Coast Offense staples, where is the tempo? Holmgren has always established a positive tempo on offense, but this year the team has never felt in sync. That, more than anything else, will determine how far the team goes in the playoffs.

There is one player able to rise above any and all challenges. His name is D.J. Hackett, and he is extraordinary. Hackett has a nose for the first down marker, and he can make tough catches in traffic. He is also the perfect deep-threat for Matt Hasselbeck. Oh yeah – he catches almost anything he can get his hands on. Hackett had another great game, catching four passes for 104 yards and a touchdown. How does Hackett get more involved in the passing game? With Burleson looking resurgent, Branch getting more comfortable, and Jackson leading the league in touchdown receptions, it is difficult to find a spot for Hackett, but Seattle needs to make a point of designing a few plays around his abilities.

Defense: The score is ugly – 27 points scored against the defense. There are two sides to this problem. On one hand, the defense didn’t perform very well. In fact, nobody on the defense played very well. However, they were put in a really bad position by an offense that could not hold onto the ball. The touchdown reception by Cardinals WR Bryant Johnson was all on the defense – mainly CB Marcus Trufant and SS Jordan Babineaux. Babineaux lagged 10 yards behind the play, and Trufant picked a bad time to slip – but the rest of the points allowed were all tied to an offense unable to secure the ball.

The offense cannot be held responsible for the defense line, however. On running plays, Seattle was simply overpowered. A good defensive line will keep the offensive line off the linebackers, but Seattle’s linebackers had a blocker in their face on almost every play. Seattle allowed 113 yards on the ground, a bad if not tragic number, but when a defense allows the Arizona Cardinals to run for 113 yards, there is an issue with the run defense. Simply put, a defensive unit this good last year, should not be this bad this year.

The inability of the defensive line to eat up blockers has also contributed immensely to the poor tackling seen this season. Because the defensive line is beaten one-on-one, at least one linesmen – and usually a fullback or TE as well – are able to get the second level, neutralizing the undersized Seahawk linebackers. If the linebackers try to run around the blocker, they inevitably get a really poor angle on the ball carrier and often miss the tackle. The blame does not solely lie with the linebackers; it also lies with the defensive line for forcing the linebackers to take poor angles. (Jordan Babineaux, on the other hand, just can’t tackle)

The defensive line was equally awful against the pass. Some of this is doubtlessly the fault of defensive coordinator John Marshall, but there is no excuse for not sacking Matt Leinart at least a few times. It really felt like even when we brought pressure, Leinart did not have to rush his throws. For the second straight game, Seattle didn’t capitalize on a chance to pound a rookie quarterback. The line looks tired and worn out, and has been dominated on many, many occasions.

The single most frustrating aspect of this defense is their inability to make adjustments. For example, look at Arizona’s ability to throw slant patterns against Seattle’s corners. The slant route terrorized Seattle, helping the Cardinals pick up key first downs. While the slant route is a great route for picking up short yardage, making a couple simple adjustments in the defensive scheme can lead to interceptions. Of course, the defense didn’t make any adjustments. The blame lies with Defensive Coordinator John Marshall, who is watching his defense crumble around him. Seattle is running almost the exact same defense as last year, yet somehow a top 10 defense last year isn’t even top 20 this year. Marshall doesn’t have the creativity to take advantage of versatile players like Julian Peterson while keeping the rest of the team disciplined.

Special Teams: The coverage team was lacking against Arizona, but even their performance was merely ordinary. K Josh Brown didn’t get any field goal attempts, but he made two extra points much closer than they should have been. P Ryan Plackemeier did an excellent job punting the ball, as usual. Nate Burleson continues to be stunning on punt and kick returns, and it would surprise nobody in Seattle if he took another return for a touchdown – though Mike Holmgren’s blood pressure shoots up every time he forgets to fair-catch the ball, and gets drilled immediately.

Summary: These Seahawks are lacking in the magic that the Seahawks had in their 2005 super-bowl run. However, this is still a good football team, just one that is not clicking on offense and performing poorly on defense. The Seahawks host the 49ers on December 14th, with a chance to wrap up the division and secure themselves a playoff berth.

This team isn’t done yet.


Kyle Rota is our MMQB, and is also known as "Rotak" on our message boards. You can e-mail him here.

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