Whenever a team starts slowly – particularly a football team, for the purposes of this thing I’m writing here – the hope is always that, over time, they’ll figure their shit out and start to gel. The reasons ultimately boil down to either Getting Guys Back From Injury, or Young Players Making The Big Leap. Aside from getting Jeremy Lane back, the Seahawks appear to be firmly in the second camp.
I know there were some fairly impressive victories in the first half of the season – the Bears and 49ers games come immediately to mind – but nothing was as all-encompassingly dominant as what we saw yesterday in Minnesota. The offense has taken a HUGE step forward, as Russell Wilson has been the best quarterback in football over the last three weeks. The defense rebounded quite well after giving up almost everything to the Steelers. The only blemish on yesterday’s game was the kickoff return for a touchdown – their only score of the day – and with the way our offense was moving the ball at will, you could say they had a lot of practice at running back kicks.
I know there were a lot of injured Vikings that didn’t play for the majority of the game, so obviously they weren’t at full strength. But, I’ll counter that with A) Who IS at full strength at this point in the season?; and B) They could’ve had everyone on their roster at their disposal and I still don’t think we would’ve lost to them. I’ve seen this Seahawks team struggle against MUCH worse this year; but yesterday, we took it to them and repeatedly stomped on their throats until they were dead.
Now, obviously, I can’t say I saw this sort of turnaround coming. I don’t think a lot of us expected the Seahawks to turn things around so brilliantly. But, here we are, at 7-5, with three REALLY easy games ahead of us, and an inside track at the 5-seed in the playoffs. The offense is humming along like we haven’t seen since 2012, but that’s not even accurate, because we’ve NEVER seen THIS offense do what it’s doing. We’ve never seen Russell Wilson this confident and this accurate in the pocket. He still hasn’t lost his ability to make people miss and scramble around and whatnot, but he’s added another weapon to his arsenal: the quick pass. This is really what we’ve been waiting for all along, since we figured out Wilson was to be our franchise quarterback.
What’s always been the way to defend Russell Wilson? Keep him in the pocket and use his deficiencies against him. There are a couple of universal truths about our quarterback since he entered the league: his offensive line struggles in pass protection, and if he gets to the edge he’s already beaten you. So, you prevent him from getting to that edge, and you use his primary weakness against him by collapsing the pocket and taking away his throwing lanes. Usually, Wilson will oblige you on this by holding the ball too long, trying to make the big play all the time. Since he entered the league, he’s been the slowest quarterback to get the ball out of his hands, and when you combine that with a faulty (at times) offensive line, you get a guy who’s been sacked more than most (all?).
But, if Wilson’s able to shift his game to where he gets the ball out on time more often than not, then how do defenses adjust? I reckon, they’d adjust by taking more chances on the edges, thereby re-opening those old running lanes, resulting in a Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t scenario that could ultimately make Russell Wilson the most dangerous quarterback in the league.
What we’re witnessing, my friends, is an elite quarterback who is adjusting to all the defensive adjustments other teams have made on him, and thriving accordingly.
This obviously opens up a whole new world to an offense that looks to be transitioning away from Marshawn Lynch. Not that we have to go completely cold turkey, as we’ve got Beastmode Jr. in Thomas Rawls. He continues to look like the real deal in his rookie season, taking over the load for a would-be Hall of Famer. To lose one of the best running backs in the league and not miss a step? Yeah, I’d say this is a team no one wants to face in the playoffs.
Ultimately, if the season ends up going well, I think we have to give a lot of credit to a couple of really under-the-radar moves the team made, when it appeared that things were going down the toilet: replacing Cary Williams with DeShawn Shead, and replacing Drew Nowak with Patrick Lewis. The Cary Williams thing probably should’ve looked a lot more obvious as the weeks went on, but I think a lot of his struggles were camouflaged by, quite honestly, the rest of the defense suffering its share of breakdowns. But, when you consider the defensive unit as a whole, and that if even one guy isn’t pulling his share of the weight could spell disaster, then it’s pretty easy to see who that one guy was. The thing is, I don’t think the team would’ve been able to make that change in the first place if Jeremy Lane doesn’t come back from his Super Bowl massacre. We needed Shead as a primary slot defender (especially with Burley constantly getting injured), so if Lane hadn’t come back, I think we’d still be watching Williams start opposite Richard Sherman, and our defense would be suffering for it. More than anything, I think we didn’t realize Williams was doing as much damage as he was because of our over-confidence in the L.O.B. Let’s face it, when you play the style of defense we like to play, where your outside corners are often on an island, you can’t just compensate for one player’s shortcomings when he’s supposed to be one of those guys on the island. This should also speak to how fragile our current dominance is: if anyone in the secondary goes down with injury, the whole fucking thing could unravel. So, save some of those thoughts and prayers for the L.O.B.
As for Patrick Lewis, I think that was a no-brainer. Honestly, I can’t remember the state of mind this team was in when it decided to go with Drew Nowak at center over the other guys we had in camp. Was Lewis a little banged up maybe? It’s hard to see how Nowak would’ve just beaten him straight up. Maybe Nowak has more club control? Either way, I’m sure Tom Cable saw something in him. Something that might blossom. With Britt moving to guard and Gilliam to right tackle, maybe he thought this was the right time to break in a new center as well, so they could all grow and gel together. Either way, it was a mistake, and more importantly, the Seahawks recognized it and formally announced it as a mistake. This front office does a lot of things right, from drafting to development to working contracts and leaving us with cap flexibility. But, I think the most important thing – and the most underrated thing – is their ability to pivot away from mistakes when it’s obvious that it wasn’t working. With Cary Williams, it was a good chunk of change, as well as a good chunk of games; with Nowak, it was just the games (as well as a little bit of Cable’s credibility). BUT, the team made the necessary corrections, and we’re all the better for it.
Now, it’s just a matter of taking care of business. We go to Baltimore next week, whose only positive attribute is its quality coaching; then we host the Browns and Rams. All of those teams are playing their worst football right now, so they should all be easily beaten. That takes us to Week 17 – where we should have 10 wins and probably the 5th seed locked up.
I know all along I’ve talked about the Cardinals having the 2-seed locked up by Week 17, but who’s to say we won’t have that 5-seed locked up as well? Right now, we’re 7-5, and a game behind the Vikings (who we just beat, and therefore have the tiebreaker edge against). The Vikings play at Arizona this Thursday, where they should most certainly lose. When we beat Baltimore, that’ll put us in the 5-seed with the same record as the Vikings. Assuming we continue to win and get to 10 wins going into Week 17, who’s to say the Vikings don’t lose another one between now and then? They host the Bears and Giants in back to back weeks; those teams aren’t great, but they’re certainly capable. Our other concern, of course, would be the Packers. They host Dallas next week, then go to Oakland; both games they should probably win. Then, they go to Arizona before hosting the Vikings in the final week. So, in conclusion, I regret travelling down this line of thinking, as there are WAY too many variables to count right now.