We’re about a week removed from the Seahawks victory over the 49ers last Thursday evening, and now that we have weathered the 24 hour news block where everyone who doubted Seattle’s efforts seemed to change their tunes. Bandwagon fan memes are everywhere, and the conspiracy theorists are still somehow blaming Ciara as the reason Russell Wilson is playing at a lower level. Wilson is quickly setting himself up to be the lone recipient of the oft non awarded “Most Sacked” ESPY award this year (31 as of this writing, league leading). Say what you want about his off color comments about miraculous water, something is keeping him fresh on that field, and no matter how hard the hit is, he keeps it coming.
Though his offensive line hasn’t done him too many favors, recent run blocking improvements have showed up in a pair of games: in sync blocking to allow a Thomas Rawls 69 yard TD run against the Bengals, a 45 Yard bomb to Tyler Lockett against the 49ers, and you could argue that the scheme worked flawlessly on a trick play from Marshawn Lynch back to Wilson, deep down field to Ricardo Lockette for 40 yards against the Panthers. The real issue is the consistency, as neither the numbers nor the on field plays lie-the Seahawks appear to put it together, but unable to finish opposing teams.
Enter the Dumpster Fire known as the San Francisco 49ers. The Seahawks traveled to Santa Clara, home of Super Bowl 50, in what could only be billed as a ‘must win’ scenario. I’ll spare you the lengthy details, but you do need to know the highlights: a long touchdown pass to rookie Tyler Lockett for 45 yards, Marshawn getting his first rushing touchdown of the season, and of course, low receiving lines for any and all receivers. Cap’n Kapepernick played in true DF style, notching no rushing yards on the evening and no passing TDs, with the Niners tallying 143 yards in the game total (40 of those game from Carlos Hyde). The game ended with a pair of Field goals between the teams, but Seattle won the battle, 20-3, to arrive at 3-4 for the season. The stakes are equally as high for a Week 8 showdown with the Dallas Cowboys, but more on that in a minute.
Assuming a Seahawks win in Dallas, the road gets tougher, easier, tougher, easier and ends tough, in that order. Home games versus the Arizona Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers don’t make the near future very bright. Both of those teams are operating at winning records, even with injuries. Thankfully, there’s another chance to play the 49ers in between those two games. From there, they travel to face the Vikings, then the Ravens, get both the Brown and Rams at home, to finish the season on the road versus Arizona. I need to be frank- in my preseason predictions, I honestly expected both Dallas and Minnesota to provide tougher matchups, and the chance still remains for those games to be as such, but I’ll explain why I don’t think that will be the case.
Dallas, with or without Dez Bryant, won’t be an issue. What WILL be the issue, is a defensive end by the name of Greg Hardy, who sacked Tom Brady three times in a Week 5 outing against the Patriots. The way the offensive line of Seattle has played against below average teams, this could be a week that Wilson scrambles a lot, or spends significant time on his back if the line can’t hold it together. Seattle will also have their hands full with Darren McFadden, or whomever the Cowboys select as their running back du jour. That offensive line is so good, Darren McFadden had more rushing yards last week than just about any running back in the NFL not named Lamar Miller and Todd Gurley. However, if you recall, the ‘Hawks held Carlos Hyde to 40 yards, Matt Forte under 100, and even though McFadden has 281 rush yards this season, the majority of those yards game against the NY Giants, who have be unable to stop anyone from running all over them. Dallas’s total rush yards to date in this season is 766. Look for them to eclipse the 800 yard mark this week, albeit barely.
Dallas’ return game has struggled, and just last week they gave up a punt return for a score to a player that used to be on their own team. Tyler Lockett hasn’t run a punt or kick back for a score since week three, yet is averaging just under 75 total yards per game in regards to returns. I think this is a week for him to showcase his trademark speed and rack up over 100 return yards. A score would be nice, and I would like to see it, though I’m still on the fence if he gets the score through the air or on the ground. I do see him burning Dallas’ secondary deep for a score, just like he did with San Francisco.
Of course, the last time these two teams faced, Seattle lost at home, 30-23. Many things have changed since then; DeMarco Murray is no longer a Cowboy, Dez Bryant may or may not be back, but my guess is even if he is, 100% is a far cry from what he’ll be running at. Oh, and there’s the part about Tony Romo being out until week ten, so the ‘Hawks have that going for them as well. Who is in for the Cowboys at QB? None other than once Buffalo Bills backup Matt Cassel. He’s amassed 227 passing yards, and an absolutely putrid 1/3 TD/INT ratio so far. That was against the GIANTS. I fully expect a pair of picks, possibly even a pick six (though 2 isn’t out of the question, depending on how unsuccessful McFadden is running into Bobby Wagner and Bruce Irvin all day, he’ll have to air out his problems).
The key to turning the season toward a winning record starts with this game in Dallas. There will be opportunites for Seattle to exploit other key matchups, not just pass rushers and offensive lines. Then again, I never expected Seattle to blow fourth quarter leads, whether home or away. So of course, while I want to see another 26-0 like when the ‘Hawks played the Bears, I’m more apt to assume that the Cowboys score 14 or less points in this game. If those points come off of the leg of Dan Bailey, that’s a possibility.
Heading into the BYE week at .500 bodes well. It keeps Seattle in playoff contention, more so for a wild card spot right now, but depending on the way the season ends, maybe more than just the wild card. If the predictions about the hangover from the post season of last year and the year prior are true, this BYE week comes at a good time, right in the middle of the season. With Jeremy Lane (surely you remember him from Super Bowl 49, he was the Cornerback to make a goal line pick on Tom Brady, running it back to the Seattle 14 yard line before suffering a broken wrist and torn ACL) set to possibly practice during the BYE week or the week after, there remains a glimpse that coverage packages will have a set of fresh legs down the stretch, which may be needed.
The biggest challenge coming out of the bye are the red hot Arizona Cardinals, anchored by Carson Palmer. Through the first seven games of the 2015 season, Palmer has put up an impressive 16/5 TD/INT ratio, averaging 287 passing yards per game, and just over 2.28 TD/0.71 INT per game. Compared to the first 6 games he was healthy for in 2014, his passing yards (271/game), touchdown/interception rate (1.83/0.42) and other applicable stats have increased. This is to be expected, and may mean that a Week 10 date between these two teams will be more along the lines of a shootout, than the defensive wins against the Carson Palmer less Cardinals last season.
The near doubling of the interception rate is specifically what I’m paying attention to here. In a tough Week 5 loss to the Carolina Panthers, Russell Wilson threw no picks against a defense that tied for the NFL lead in interceptions. Though Arizona has a formidable secondary, I think they can be beat. If Palmer intends to throw for almost 300 yards again, I expect that 0.71 INT/Game to be 1.00 INT/Game the first time these two teams square off. He’s due to float on down back to earth any time now.
Though I originally thought the 49ers would be a tough win on the road, everything I saw last Thursday leads me to believe the Boom is lowered hard on the 49ers when they play at Century link. Unless San Francisco starts showing offensive signs of life in the next few weeks, this W is just about sealed.
That of course, brings us to the matchup after Turkey Day with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers, the 2005 Super Bowl champions, romped the Seahawks 24-0 in 2011, the second season of the Pete Carroll era. I’d put money on it though, that Head Ref Bill Leavey won’t be officiating, Tavaris Jackson won’t be starting behind center, Marshawn Lynch is actually returning to mid season form after sitting out with a hamstring injury, and the Steelers defense isn’t as great as it used to be.
Hear me out on this one. In week one, the Steelers got trounced by the Patriots, throwing one TD and one Interception, with one rushing touchdown as well. Big Ben, before going down with a knee sprain, averaged just over 300 passing yards, 1.33 TDs, and 0.66 INTs per game. The last time Seattle squared off against the Patriots? They threw two passing touchdowns, one interception, and got a score on the ground, in addition to a field goal. Yes, both teams have lost key players due to injuries and free agency, but I really think this is a statement game for Seattle’s season.
You’re probably wondering why I picked the Steelers game to be the statement game, and not against the Cardinals. This reasoning is as follows: Seattle will likely be chasing after to coat tails of Arizona for the rest of the season, barring injuries, or Palmer falling off of the wagon completely. Though typically dropping at least one game out of the two played each year to the St. Louis Rams, I don’t foresee the second game of the two being a loss. Look at the stats of Nick Foles: averaging 159 passing yards per game, notching a TD/INT rate of 6/5 (through 7 games!), averaging less than one passing TD (0.85) per game, and one interception per game (0.71). Yet, the only aspect of St. Louis’s game is the run. Todd Gurley, their first round draft pick, has been electric since taking the field in Week 3. He’s taken at least two scores to the house on a weekly basis, but I suspect that by the time the ‘Hawks face the Rams, Gurley’s hot streak will be trending downwards. Recall that Matt Forte was held under 100 rushing yards. Nick Foles has no real threat to pass to down the field, especially with Kam Chancellor back in the lineup now.
A win against San Francisco jump started the ‘Hawks offensive and defensive brains. Wilson finally had time to make deeper throws, but the result was mixed. This is to be expected from a run heavy offense. Even better passing skills can’t always save you from an underrun route, or overthrown pass. Thursday, one such throw sailed clear over Jermaine Kearse’s head into the hands of a San Francisco defender, and another was picked off in the end zone. As Wilson improves his passing accuracy with his quartet of receivers, I expect this to get better. Tyler Lockett was the beneficiary of the day, as Jimmy Graham, Kearse and Doug Baldwin all saw more coverages. Ricardo Lockette readily demonstrated against the Panthers he could fight for the jump ball, though the only pass I wanted him to really fight for was in SB 49, but I digress.
I can see the ‘Hawks surviving the Cardinals at Century Link. Their season is on the line just about every week from here on out. Thankfully, the Tight ends in Arizona’s arsenal are not the likes of Tyler Eifert or Greg Olsen. Their running game is strong, and as long as Cary Williams, Deshawn Shead and Richard Sherman can keep Arizonas’ stud wide receiver trio of Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown and Malcom Floyd in their sights, aid from Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor won’t be too far away. The Seahawks will need to finish the Cardinals at home to prove to themselves (and to some degree, us as fans) that the division leader is no more than a Goliath who met its David. Once they achieve that psychological victory, I really can see them trumping the remainder of the teams on their schedule. The Cardinals losses of this season? They came on the arm of the third string quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and a Todd Gurleyless St. Louis Rams (IN Arizona).
When the Steel curtain comes to town, the ‘Hawks have to win, not just to avenge Carroll’s blowout loss in 2011 or the blown call of the 2005 Super Bowl, but because of the facts- Seattle beating a healthy Ben Rothlisberger (arm chaired by Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, and Lev’eon Bell), puts them in the legit contender conversation. No one can look at the Seahawks strength of schedule and say ‘they had it easy’. Winning against the 49ers, the backup QB Bears, and Lions don’t quite invoke the term ‘legion’ when discussing the Legion of Boom. Though their caliber of play has transformed overnight, the offense will need to do its part to put points on the board in the 4th quarter, or they risk gassing the defense out before they have a chance to shine when it counts. It will never count more than the string of three home games in November. Each one represents an even more crucial win than the last, the threading of a very difficult needle. Each one will drive the frenzy higher and higher, and it’s my belief that this team heads into the playoff with a chip on their shoulder, and targets in their sight.
I saw an interesting statistic from NFL Insiders on ESPN this morning. It said in the first five games after Big Ben returned to the lineup after injury, he averaged under 300 passing yards and a 6/5 TD/INT rating. Simply put, the Steelers are not quite the heavy contender they may be touting to others or what they see when they look in the mirror. They are contenders, though time will tell if the injuries and other issues plague them beyond the first week of the playoffs. Winning against the Steelers, with Big Ben at center, provides uncontestable proof that Seattle is capable of winning not just ‘easy’ games, but critical ones as well.
I thought the Ravens may give Seattle some trouble. At 1-6 right now, they are enjoying some San Francisco like feelings from me. Until that team makes a big enough wave, I’m not paying attention to them. The Vikings, whom I though with Adrian Peterson could do some real damage, are treading water. Again, Seattle kept Forte to less than a century of running yards. AP doesn’t look like AP so far this season. Stefon Diggs is good, but Seattle’s corners are better. Recall that the Vikings almost beat the Broncos. Well, Seattle is far above average in playing the Broncos. The Browns, well they have Josh McCown and Gary Barnidge. They’ve both started to cool off, and McCown looks more like Clark Kent than he does Superman.
If Seattle can win on the road, and at home and just keep the losses to a minimum, and maybe, just maybe take a game into OT and let Hauschka pull the trigger, I really do think playoff (and Superbowl) contention is not out of reach. Recall after starting the 2014 Season at 3-3, they went on a 9-1 tear down the stretch, by a string of three wins and one loss, then six straight more.
So, in short, the ‘Hawks win this week. It’s a bold prediction, and It’s a long road ahead, so crack your Bud Lights, make ready your war cries, and let’s get back to football.
Till next time…