SEATTLE- A number of sports analysts spent the week preceding this game with the phrase: “How do you beat Seattle? You keep Russell Wilson in the pocket, that’s how”. There were even reports that Mike Vick (backup QB, Pittsburgh) was acting like Wilson in practice so the Steelers defense could contain his running style. After Wilson enjoyed a career best day in passing touchdowns (FIVE!), set a season best passer rating (off of a brilliant 21 for 30, 345 passing yard game), it’s safe to assume that those analysts might change their stance. It’s also safe to assume that Mike Vick won’t be imitating other mobile QBs with success anytime soon.
Because when he wasn’t executing trademark scrambles for yards (14 in this game, 10 of them coming in a 4th quarter sprint for a key 1st down conversion), Wilson stood firm in the pocket and threw ferociously right into the Pittsburgh secondary without issue. Three of those passing touchdowns went to Doug Baldwin, the other two went to Jermaine Kearse. Even Thomas Rawls rumbled in for a short yard score. The defense, while allowing a franchise record 538 yards to the Steelers, grabbed four interceptions in this game. Ultimately, the last quarter proved to be one of the most exciting quarters the Seahawks have played this season, with three touchdowns being scored. (Where’s all this talk about how the Seahawks have forgot to finish?)
The blocking by the offensive line has improved immensely with Patrick Lewis at center. Even though Wilson got sacked twice, the blocking was so good that in the 2nd quarter, Seattle carved Pittsburgh up on an 85 yard, 11 play scoring drive. The most important aspect of this drive was three consecutive third down conversions. Seattle ended up converting only 7 of 13 third down attempts, but when they counted the most, Seattle looked into the face of their opposition and converted. In fact, Wilson was 9/10 in the first half, with over 100 passing yards and two touchdowns. Jimmy Graham was heavily involved in the passing attack, amassing 75 yards (longest completion-a ridiculous one handed roll and re-catch for 36 yards) before leaving the game after suffering a gruesome patella tendon injury in the end zone. It was Doug Baldwin’s time, catching six of his eight targets for 145 yards and three TDs. For two consecutive games, Wilson threw three TDs (San Francisco, Pittsburgh). In the 4th quarter, the blocking on back to back drives allowed Wilson to complete five passes for 80 yards and loft two TD passes. The Offensive line play is light years ahead of where it was at the beginning of the season.
The only error in the offenses play, was two missed two point conversions. Seattle is now 1/5 on two point conversions this season. Not to worry, the NFL’s success rate in two-point conversions is 46%, so a lot of teams aren’t converting either. The Steelers converted one two point conversion, but failed on their second attempt. Another one of Steven Hauschka’s kicks was blocked, which is a trend that needs to be reversed.
The defense, while allowing record number of total yards, had moments of clarity, with a pair of sacks on Rothelisberger (Cliff Avril, AND Frank Clark), and four total interceptions, two versus both the starting and backup QBs of the Steelers. The first interception came from Jeremy Lane, who returned it 54 yards off of a Pittsburgh fake field goal attempt in his first game back since his horrific injury in Super Bowl 49. The second interception came from a miffed Rothelisberger throw, which Ahtyba Rubin came up with easily. The third came from Richard Sherman, off a botched pass intended for Antonio Brown early in the 4th quarter and returned for 26 yards. He also prevented a two point conversion by the Steelers (though not officially counted as a pick). The fourth and final pick was recorded by Kam Chancellor, off of a deflection with 1:47 to go in the game.
The majority of the franchise record total yards were given away to Steelers receiver Markus Wheaton, who accounted for 201 of them through the air. He found success right up the middle, burning many a defensive back or linebacker along the way with ease. Wheaton did most of his damage on a 69 yard bomb from Rothelisberger with less than 12 minutes to go in the 4th quarter. Defensive captain Bobby Wagner recorded a pass defensed, and 12 total tackles on the night. One of the most surprising defensive stories besides Jeremy Lane was DeShawn Shead, who started in place of Cary Williams at right cornerback. Shead had 10 tackles and four passes defensed, and when Pittsburgh super speedster Martavis Bryant was on the field, it was Shead who usually shadowed him. Shead limited Bryant’s passing numbers to almost superior results (69 total receiving yards off of 13 targets, five of which complete). Bryant’s lone touchdown came on an 11 yard rush, but Shead was nowhere near him. Richard Sherman limited Steelers star receiver Antonio Brown to a total of 24 yards in the game (Brown would finish the game with only 51 total yards after Shead and Sherman effectively neutralized his receiving game).
A couple of days after the game, head coach Pete Carroll had this to say about the teams’ performance on the NFL Network’s NFL Now when asked if he saw any needs for improvement, before the team was playoff ready: “Heck yeah, we got a lot of areas that we need to work on. There are some areas that are turning for us though, the play up front on offense has really turned for us, and we’ve cut down on getting sacked. Russell has really been hanging in the pocket, and has put some really good weeks together back to back and getting some good numbers. We need to get rid of the explosive plays on the defensive end. We’ve been very good at that over the years, and it’s been a little bit of an issue for us….we haven’t got as many turnovers as we’d like.” I think we can all agree with Coach Carroll that getting 4+ turnovers a game from here on out would make everyone happy.
Up next, Seattle heads to Minnesota to take on the NFC North leading Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings are chaired by early season sensation QB Teddy Bridgewater, anchored by a resurgent running came by Adrian Peterson, and rounded out by a surprisingly good defensive squad. Seattle looks to win it’s third game in a row, and in if the season ended today, this game would be the exact first game the Seahawks played in the postseason. Seattle leads Minnesota all time 8-5, but the points scored and allowed show a much closer battle, with Seattle scoring 336, and Minnesota scoring 317. This matchup is looking like a defensive slug fest.