MMQB: Saints 28, Seahawks 17

MMQB: Saints 28, Seahawks 17

If you are looking for someone to talk you away from the ledge, find another article. I'm not ready to leap off the ledge, but I'm not sure the people making the leap are wrong. For the second straight week, this team played horribly. For the second straight week, this offense couldn't run the ball to save their lives.

New Orleans Saints 28, Seattle Seahawks 17
Sunday, October 14th, 2007
Qwest Field, Seattle, WA


For the second straight week, Mike Holmgren has been horrible with his playcalling. For the second straight week, Matt Hasselbeck looked like a deer in the headlights when he encountered the blitz. For the sixth straight week, this team has come out looking flat to start the game. These problems aren't magically going to go away. Six weeks into the season, at least a few of these problems look like your 2007 Seattle Seahawks, not random aberrations.

Handouts to the Standouts: The wide receivers did a really good job. Bobby Engram caught 9 passes for 120 yards. Nate Burleson caught 6 passes for 63 yards, including a very acrobatic touchdown. Ben Obomanu looks like he could become a decent receiver, catching 4 passes for 72 yards. Leonard Weaver is the only truly exciting player on this offense, ripping off a 37-yard run and making several impressive catches. Yeah, this is a short section.

Things that made me go, "Blech!":
It would be a bit of a cop-out to say "The entire game", though that may be correct. Specifically, this team can't run the ball, pick up the blitz, convert on 3rd down, stop other teams on 3rd down, call decent plays on either side of the ball, or even play adequet special teams. Even more specifically, CB Kelly Jennings had his worst night as a pro yet, making bad plays againt the run and against the pass. The defensive line got absolutely zero  pressure on the Saints, a team that has had issues keeping their QB upright. QB Matt Hasselbeck looks afraid every time the defense blitzes, and seems to think that our receivers are actually a foot taller than they really are. The offensive line allowed the Saints to notch five sacks, when they have four games with one sack. Sadly, the offensive line did a better job in pass-protection than run-blocking, but what else is new?

Offense: Usually when somebody says "My grandmother can do (X) better than (highly paid professional)!" I tend to roll my eyes. In this case though, I am fairly confident than any of our grandmothers could've called a better game than Mike Holmgren did. I'm pretty sure that I've seen better offensive strategies in sandlot football games, and it's hard to imagine anyone doing a worse job at clock management - again. Running your fullback (admittedly, perhaps our best runner) on 4th and 3, when your line has shown no ability to open up holes? Going for it on 4th down with less than 2 minutes to go when you're positive you'll need to kick a field-goal anyways? To be fair, Holmgren wasn't alone. Hasselbeck seems to believe that the best way to counter the blitz is to turn to your horrible running game, with almost zero big play ability. Way to burn the blitz, guys!

Most frustrating about the halfback isolation run when you see the blitz is that it might be our most effective strategy against the blitz. Given Hasselbeck's reaction to pressure, those 2-yard runs might be our best blitz-counter. I enjoy watching Vince Young and the Tennessee Titans. Vince Young barely knows how to drop back from the pocket - he spent his college career using the shotgun formation. What's scary is that Matt Hasselbeck could have easily passed as a second-year quarterback who spent most of his career in the shotgun. For example, on two consecutive 3rd quarter passing plays I noted drops where Matt was holding onto the ball with one hand, below his chest, while he was dropping back. That's, more than anything, described how our offense felt. We passed for 360 yards (amazingly misleading statistic), but we did it scared and with horrible fundamentals. Which really sums up this offense.

Sadly, if we could consistently crank out those 2-yard blitz-pickup runs, that might raise our yards per carry average. I have several thoughts on the black hole that is our running game:

A.) Chris Gray is cooked. Done. Washed up. Pick the adjective of your choice, he's no longer an effective guard.

B.) Walter Jones can still mirror guys while pass-blocking, but the days of him pushing defensive ends 20 yards downfield are over. He's an average run-blocker at best, though I remain fairly impressed with his pass-protection.

C.) Shaun Alexander is several steps slower than in '05. He's not the problem - it's really hard to run when you have guys in the backfield while also having no holes to run through - but he isn't the solution either. Give him a decent running game, and he might produce. He's not running any softer than in previous years. But he's slower, and even with good blocking he isn't going to be a good NFL back.

D.) Maurice Morris isn't the answer either, fellas. Were our offensive line able to open up holes, Shaun's lack of speed would be annoying us all and Morris could help us. But Morris needs holes to run through even more than Shaun - he'll be more effective when he gets those holes, but those holes don't exist.

In other words, our running game is a wreck and while it should get better, it isn't going to be good even if it improves... We can attempt to achieve mediocrity, though sadly that may be out of our reach.

In all this well deserved negativity, it is worth noting that Bobby Engram, Ben Obomanu, and Nate Burleson did an excellent job. If they were all a foot taller and able to occupy several places at once, Hasselbeck might even be able to hit them with his passes. Still, Engram is solid and still a master at 1st downs, Obomanu sneaks right past defenses, and Burleson is one of two players who actually bring excitement when they touch the ball (FB Leonard Weaver being the other). While everyone else was mediocre at best, all three had good games.

Defense: I've been asked by the Catholic Church to make something clear - Reggie Bush is, in fact, not God. He did a pretty good imitation in the first half, but he is actually a mortal. I felt it was needed to state that because the Seahawks defense sure didn't make him seem like a mere mortal - he pretty much had his way with the Seahawk defense in the first half, though the defense stiffened in the second half. He ran all over the defense - inside, outside, left, right... it didn't really matter. He also hurt the team in the passing game, notching first down after first down.

While Bush is certainly athletic, several teams who are less athletic than Seattle have come up with game-plans that have slowed Bush down and made him a minor nuisance. The blueprint already exists on tape, Defensive Coordinator John Marshall doesn't need to get original, he just needs to copy what other teams are doing - they make Bush an inside runner. Aside from an early 22-yard run inside, he was only moderately effective inside, but he decimated Seattle on outside runs. The lack of game-planning is truly inexcusable.

Similarly inexcusable is the team's inability to get off the field on third down. While the offense certainly did not do it's part in the 1st half to keep the defense fresh, the defense has a certain amount of responsibility for getting themselves off the field, and the defense didn't do that. Third downs in particular were a weakness - Drew Brees converted on his first 7 third-down passes, a mind-boggling stat. This is, remember, a defense that is meant to pressure the quarterback (yeah, right) and specialize in coverage. In defense of the defense (hey, somebody has to be doing some kind of defending), Marshall continued to call zones despite Brees continually exploiting the holes of the defense. Brees may be short and possess a weak arm, but he's smart, and certainly experienced enough to pick apart zone coverage. Our man coverage wasn't much better, but at least it matches up New Orleans ordinary wideouts against our secondary, instead of leaving them wide open as they find the soft spots in coverage.

Speaking of man coverage... I'm as big a fan of Kelly Jennings as you will find. I thought he was a good draft pick, was impressed last year, and I believe he will be a good player when all is said and done. That said, he was the worst player on the field (except when LS Boone Stutz played) against the Saints. Not only was he beaten in coverage, but he also made a couple containment mistakes early on in the game that lead to big runs by Bush. Ironically, his tackling was the only thing he did right all game, but let us hope he has a very short memory, because he will definitely want to forget about this game. He was outrun by David Patten on a deep reception, outmuscled by Marques Colston on a short TD, and outsmarted by Bush on a couple of runs. Just a really bad game.

Special Teams: Do you have one of those friends who says special teams doesn't matter? Just mention to them this game, and maybe they will understand. A competent performance on special teams could easily have changed the game to a close victory. Karma extracted her revenge for cutting Derek Rackley, the teams former long-snapper, when Boone Stutz, the new long snapper, botched his first snap - which New Orleans recovered for a touchdown. Combine that with a blocked field goal, and the game becomes a close fought battle. It'd be irresponsible to say Seattle would've won, but Seattle definitely could've won if the Special Teams had done a moderately decent job.

Summary: There are a few positive factors about this game. Nobody died, the sun is still expected to rise in the east at the time of print, and the team didn't give up. Sure, the entire team played flat in the 1st half, but if a mildly competent play-caller took over the offense, we could very well be talking about a comeback victory. Tim Ruskell may have destroyed the offense and formed a talented but ineffective defense, but at least the team he has helped create made sure the game was not over until Holmgren inexplicably decided to go for it on 4th and long instead of kicking a field goal.

The 2007 Seattle Seahawks: We may not be able to pick up a bltiz to save our lives, but we will battle.

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