There’s a lot to unpack about that Seahawks/Cowboys game on Sunday. So, with the BYE week coming up, I’m going to continue blathering. You can read my post from yesterday, where I bitch about that last offensive series (kneel-down aside) and our usage of Jimmy Graham down near the goalline. For what it’s worth, I know there’s been a general, “What Are The Seahawks Doing With Jimmy Graham?” consensus among fans and media types, but that seems to be an all-encompassing question about targets and whatnot. My post about yesterday strictly addresses his useage near the goalline, and how our offensive coordinator is a moron who designs terrible plays that in no way utilize Graham’s height gifts.
Today, I kind of want to step back a little bit and marvel at the importance of that game. Don’t take a win over the Cowboys for granted. Yeah, they didn’t have Tony Romo; and yeah, Dez Bryant was in his first game back after many weeks off with that foot injury. But, that’s still a very good football team down in Big D. Just because the quarterback was gone, doesn’t mean that was ever going to be an easy contest. They still have the best offensive line in football. They still have a very good defense – particularly their front seven. They still have enough talent at the skill positions to be a threat. When you factor in this game being on the road – always difficult to win on the road – and overall I’m just happy we got the W.
You could tell the Seahawks were employing a safe, quick-throw, run-heavy offense from the get-go. With Okung out, Alvin Bailey was our starting left tackle, anchoring a line that has already been pretty maligned, considering the Seahawks have given up the most sacks in the league. As the game went on, it was pretty clear that the ONE storyline the Seahawks were going to make sure wasn’t a factor in the outcome of this game was the offensive line letting our quarterback get killed. Which, in and of itself was very nearly the factor that decided the outcome of this game.
The gameplan was conservative to a fault. None of our usual big plays down the field, and the ones we did try were pretty ill-advised on behalf of Russell Wilson. Even with Wilson getting the ball out of his hands quicker than I’ve ever seen from him, the Dallas pass rush was in his face almost immediately, from all sides. This wasn’t a situation where other guys rose up to pick up their games in the absence of Russell Okung. They seemed to take even less care of their technical responsibilities, knowing that we’d be going with the quick-throw offense.
The running game was pretty disappointing, which I’ll attribute to the Cowboys realizing what we were doing pretty early on. So, they were able to crowd the line of scrimmage, stack the box, and play a lot of press on our receivers, since there was pretty much no threat of down-field passing. A terrible offensive line, like the one we’ve got, is the main reason why a team with a lot of stars (Wilson, Graham, Lynch, Lockett, and Baldwin) looks no better than an offense helmed by the likes of Matt Cassel, one of the most underwhelming game managers in the entire league.
There’s absolutely nothing positive to take away from a game like this, except that the Seahawks got the win. In that sense, it’s a lot like a lot of other Seahawks wins since 2012, so you can either dwell on all of our deficiencies, or you can put it behind you and move on. I choose to dwell, because it’s in my nature, but I’m also not going to totally believe the sky is falling just yet. In 2013, the Seahawks nearly lost to a couple of very bad teams in the Rams and Bucs in back-to-back weeks before going on an impressive run. The 2014 Seahawks lost at home to the Cowboys, then followed that up with a demoralizing defeat in St. Louis, then continued to struggle for the better part of the next month before ending the season with an impressive 6-game winning streak going into the playoffs.
No one is really thrilled with how the Seahawks have played in the first half of this season. We’ve lost to every elite team we’ve faced, and nearly gagged away a couple of others against some fairly easy prey in the Cowboys and Lions. If you would’ve told me before the season that the Seahawks would be 4-4 at this point, I would have guessed that Russell Wilson missed 4 games with injury, and I’d be worried about him returning to the team in time to salvage the season. The fact that we’ve been THIS mediocre, while being one of the more healthy teams in the entire league, really says a lot. The first thing it says is that maybe 2015 won’t be our year. But, for whatever crazy reason, I just can’t give up on this year just yet.
If you look a head, you’ll see the BYE week this week, followed by 5 home games and only 3 road games. That’s a plus. You’ll also see we play our division 4 times in these 8 games. So, there’s PLENTY of opportunity to turn this thing around. We play Arizona twice – which is what everyone is pointing to, which scares the bejesus out of me, because it’s almost like they’re assuming we’re just going to sweep the Cardinals in those two games. For what it’s worth, I’m over the moon by the fact that we play the Cards at home first. Both teams should be as healthy as they’ve been since the beginning of the season – so obviously we’re going to get their best fight – but we’re going to be the home team, and we’re playing in primetime, which is usually one of our stronger suits. If we handle our business in this one, we get the worthless 49ers the following week, and you gotta say we at least have a coinflip chance of beating the Steelers in that third of three straight home games. Win those three and that puts us in good position to go into Minnesota to try to win another ugly, defense-first game, before going to Baltimore and crushing that dumpster fire. Win those FIVE, then we get the Browns at home, and the Rams at home for a little revenge over our week 1 defeat. I like our chances in those two, which could send us into a showdown for the division in Week 17 in Arizona.
That’s sort of the rosy, best-case scenario outlook on things. But, if you’re drinking out of that half-empty glass, then you can easily see a scenario where this thing turns sour in a hurry.
Arizona – even at home, even in primetime – is no sure thing. At this point in the season, Carson Palmer was supposed to be felled by another ACL tear or something. But, he’s rocking & rolling, and they look like one of the two best teams in the entire NFC (with the Packers being the other, in spite of their loss in Denver). The Cardinals are going to be as fired up as any team has ever been, and I don’t think they’re going to give two shits about how loud the 12’s are. If they’re able to march down the field on a bevy of big plays, it’ll be a library in there in no time.
I see four games in the second half that I would deem “easy wins”. Home vs. SF, at Bal, home vs. Cle, and probably home vs. St. Louis. Again, easy is relative, but I can’t see the Rams moving the ball all that well against us (Gurley be damned) in Seattle. Then, we have the two Arizona games that could just as easily be losses, in addition to a very good Steelers team with Ben Roethlisberger back in the fold after a few weeks off with injury, and a VERY scary Vikings team with an awesome defense, in Minnesota. You want a scenario where the Seahawks go from 1 yard away from two straight Super Bowl victories to an 8-8 downer of a season? Keep losing to all these good teams that you’ve been losing to all year.
Now, what brings me hope is that these good teams aren’t without their faults. Arizona lost to Landry Jones and the Steelers a few weeks ago, they lost at home to the Rams, and they very nearly lost on the road against the Browns before finally grabbing hold of that game late. I would expect the game in two weeks will be close; I highly doubt they’d run us off the field. But, just the same, I hope we shade a little extra coverage Cary Williams’ way.
The Rams and Vikings have pretty shaky quarterback play, so you could argue they’re better versions of the Cowboys team we just played. But, I’ll say this: don’t ever take that Cowboys victory for granted.
If I can get back to my original point, it might be very likely that the Seahawks DON’T win the NFC West this year. Maybe the Cardinals keep rolling, maybe the Seahawks stumble. Obviously, starting the season 4-4 doesn’t leave us any margin for error for a division title and/or a first round BYE. So, it might be time to start adjusting our expectations a little bit towards that Wild Card. One would think that we could get that Wild Card with a 10-6 record … IF we have enough tie-breakers to get us through.
Right now, at 4-4, we’re 8th in the NFC. The Falcons are 5th at 6-2, but they’re paper tigers if I’ve ever seen any. I don’t think their defense is all that impressive; Julio Jones is good, but Matt Ryan is definitely erratic, and they’re not good enough to get by on their running game alone. I think the Panthers are going to run away with that division and I think the Saints are better than the Falcons and will eventually pass them. The Vikings are currently 6th at 5-2 and definitely look like a stronger team than the Falcons, but they’ve also had a pretty easy schedule to kick off the season (facing the likes of the 49ers, Bears, Lions twice, Chargers, and Chiefs). For the Seahawks to make a Wild Card, that game in Minnesota will be crucial. We HAVE to beat the Vikings and get that head-to-head tiebreaker. Beyond that, assuming the Rams lose next week to Minnesota, we’ll have the same record as them. If we beat them at home, that should put them to bed (Nick Foles is also, very clearly, who we thought he was, and will not be leading them to the post-season this year).
With the Rams and Vikings out of the way via tie-breakers, and with the Falcons falling to Earth a little bit, and with the Saints still being too inconsistent on defense to really pose a threat, I would argue the only other team left in the NFC to worry about is the Dallas Cowboys. Remember them? Well, they host the Eagles next week (honestly, a game the Eagles should probably win, but also a game that could easily go the other way), then they go to Tampa in a game the Cowboys will be favored in. Even if they go 1-1 in that stretch, that would put them at 3-6. After that, Tony Romo returns, and they’ll be at full strength. Their closing run, with Romo back in the fold, features 4 road games and 3 home games, but the only really difficult one is the game in Green Bay. If Romo returns on fire, and they start playing like the 2014 Cowboys, I could EASILY see them finish the season with a record of 10-6. At which point, if the Seahawks are also 10-6, you’re going to be glad the Seahawks won an ugly clunker of a game back on November 1st.