The lasting image I’ve taken away from this game – the first thing that’ll come to mind as the season goes on and I’m reminded of the week we went to New Jersey to play the Jets – isn’t Russell Wilson’s heroism, or Jimmy Graham’s demolition of everything in his path, or even the fact that we flew across the country and dominated in a 10am west coast start time that would’ve been unheard of 10 years or even 5 years ago. While those are all great storylines that I’ll gladly talk about below, the really fascinating part of this game was the Brandon Marshall vs. Richard Sherman matchup, and Ryan Fitzpatrick’s fearlessness in trying to exploit it.
Richard Sherman doesn’t follow the other team’s #1 receiver every game. Part of that is many teams don’t have a TRUE #1 receiver worthy of all the attention, part of that is our scheme is so sound and our other cornerbacks are pretty good in their own rights. So, when Sherm does the unusual, like he did on Sunday, it’s noteworthy. Hell, it’s appointment television! And, this matchup didn’t disappoint.
Brandon Marshall IS a true #1 receiver. He is, indeed, probably one of the top five most gifted and dominant receivers in all of football. People don’t usually throw his name into the mix as much as they should because he’s 32 years old, he’s bounced around to now his fourth team in a tumultuous career, and he’s rarely – if ever – had a really elite quarterback throwing him the ball. But, I’ll tell you this much, he’s had eight 1,000+ yard receiving seasons (including at least one with four different teams, which I believe is an NFL record), and he’s had 6 seasons with 100+ receptions. This is a bona fide NFL Hall of Fame talent, and maybe a first ballot guy at that.
I mean, just look at the list of quarterbacks he’s made look like Pro Bowlers:
- Jay Cutler
- Kyle Orton
- Chad Henne
- Matt Moore
- Jay Cutler again
- Josh McCown
- Ryan Fitzpatrick
If that isn’t a who’s who of utter crap, I don’t know what to tell you!
So, when I caught on to what Richard Sherman was trying to do, that game took on another level of intrigue. Now, it didn’t hurt that Eric Decker was out with injury. While Decker isn’t in Marshall’s league, he’s still a quality, veteran receiver and a consummate #2 guy who will do his share of the damage if the opposing team focuses too much on Marshall. I wonder, with a fully healthy Decker, if Sherm still would’ve followed Marshall, or if we would’ve played it straight.
Either way, he did follow Marshall around, and it was absolutely the right thing to do. There’s no doubt in my mind – with the way Fitzpatrick was already trying to pick on Sherm, because we left him out there on an island (so to speak) – that had we stuck with our regular defense, Marshall would’ve lined up against Shead probably 80% of the game, and he would’ve destroyed us for 200+ yards and maybe a couple more touchdowns. And, believe me, I like Shead! I just think there’s another class of cornerback above Shead (a class that Richard Sherman is in), and it takes a guy IN that class to try to shut down a quality receiver like Marshall.
I mean, hell, as it was, with Sherm on him all day, Marshall STILL caught 4 balls for 89 yards and the first receiving touchdown this defense has given up this season! You’re telling me those numbers wouldn’t EASILY be doubled with Shead guarding him predominantly throughout the game? Unless we would’ve shaded our safeties to his side on the reg, which isn’t really the way we like to play defense.
Anyway, it looked like it was going to pay off for the Jets. Marshall got the lion’s share of his catches and yards in the first half – including the touchdown right before halftime that looked very un-Sherm, as he was unable to get his head turned around to look for the ball – but after a VERY bullshit pass interference call on Sherm in the second half, Fitz was caught with his hand in the cookie jar one too many times, and Sherm cut it off at the wrist with the first of two interceptions for him on the day. EASILY the most satisfying interception I’ve seen him catch, probably since the 2013 game at Houston, as it came immediately after the bullshit flag.
In the end, the Sherman vs. Marshall matchup went about as well as you’d expect. Marshall got his licks in early – because you’re not going to COMPLETELY eliminate a guy of his calibre – but ultimately Sherman won the day, and not just because the Seahawks came away with a victory. Yes, Marshall had 4 receptions, but he was targeted 12 times. Yes, Marshall got the TD, but Sherm got 2 INTs. Yes, the Jets were able to exploit that matchup a little bit in the first half, but Sherman put Marshall on lock in the second half, and that was all she wrote.
Honestly, more than anything, I was shocked Fitzpatrick kept trying to go that way! I understand the rationale – in the NFL, you love to go to a 1 on 1 matchup with a hall of fame receiver all day every day – but it just seems like eventually you’re going to get snakebitten. I kept thinking that throughout the first half: one of these times, Sherm is going to get his, and it’s going to be glorious. It also makes sense in the fact that they really didn’t really have anyone else to throw to. Decker was out. Quincy Enunwa is a nice story as a second year possession receiver, but he’s not even at Decker’s level, let alone Marshall’s. Behind him, there’s no one. The Jets haven’t even completed a pass to a tight end in over a year! Other than Enunwa, they had the two running backs to throw to. While Bilal Powell had a nice game, and a couple of catches for first downs, that’s essentially playing right into our hands if they do that all day. So, really, Fitzpatrick had no choice but to go to Marshall as if he was being guarded by Just Another Guy! Nevertheless, it doesn’t make him look like any smarter of a person (Harvard education or not), but them’s the breaks in the National Football League.
Moving on to other things, Russell Wilson looked phenomenal. Again, he was hampered by injuries, but I gotta think his ankle – if it’s not back to normal yet – will be fine by our next game in a couple weeks. And, wearing the brace on his knee, while it slowed him a little bit – and most certainly took away a lot of our zone read plays – still allowed him to move around a little bit when he needed to. I don’t think we’re going to see Wilson go full Tarkenton for a few more weeks yet (maybe in the second half of the season), but he’s upright, he’s mobile enough, and he’s making enough plays in the pocket to re-introduce the narrative of him taking that next step to Elite status (regardless of what many national pundits think; which, do they even bother watching ANY tape before crafting their hot taeks?).
Wilson completed 23 of 32 passes for 309 yards and 3 TDs. 8 of those 23 completions were of 15 yards or more. He was, for the most part, on time, and dropping dimes into windows only our receivers could get to.
One of those receivers taking the bulk of the yards in this one was Jimmy Graham, who caught 6 more balls for 113 yards, which puts him on a 2-week run (since we opened him up to the full playbook and the full allotment of offensive plays) of 12 receptions for 213 yards and a touchdown. He came up particularly huge in yesterday’s game, given the fact that Baldwin was held to just 4 catches for 54 yards.
As usual, Wilson did his thing when it comes to spreading the ball around. 8 different players caught at least one pass, including Tanner McEvoy’s first-ever reception (a WIDE open 42-yard touchdown in the second quarter), and C.J. Spiller’s first-ever Seahawks reception for a touchdown (after having just been signed earlier this week off the streets).
The offensive line did its job against a remarkable defensive line. It wasn’t able to open up as many rushing lanes as you’d like, but that’s to be expected. What was awesome was how much time it afforded Russell Wilson to pass the ball. Sure, there were some pressures, and a couple sacks, but this O-Line isn’t ever going to be perfect. As long as it can limit the damage as it’s been doing for the most part this season, and (even bigger) avoid excessive penalties that put us behind the chains, we’ll be just fine with this much-maligned group.
Germain Ifedi got his first start in replacing J’Marcus Webb, and had some good times and some bad times, but I have no doubt in my mind that he was better than what we would’ve gotten with Webb against that group. Furthermore, going forward, we’re in MUCH better hands with Ifedi, as long as we can keep him off the trainer’s table. We have this week off, which is a godsend to everyone with nagging injuries, but even better: we face a much more reasonable slate of D-Lines going forward. In the Nothing Special department, we face: Atlanta, Arizona, New Orleans, Buffalo, New England, Philly, and Tampa in the next seven games. The rest of the way, depending on injuries, we only have to be concerned about the D-Lines of Carolina, Los Angeles, and maybe Green Bay, and that’s it! So, grey skies are gonna clear up, folks.
Great games by Bobby Wagner, Earl Thomas (who got his first pick of the season), K.J. Wright, and our D-Line as usual. We ended up with 4 sacks on the day, a bunch of QB hits, and we held them to 58 yards rushing on the day. If it weren’t for a crazy play involving the quarterback being strip-sacked, fumbling the ball about 10 yards forward, where a receiver picked it up and ran it into the endzone while everyone else on the field thought it was an incomplete pass, our points-against number would look a lot better than it does. With that, and those two garbage time TDs by the 49ers last week, that’s a good 22 points we’re going to have to make up if we want to hold onto our championship belt of fewest points allowed in a season!
This one was fun. Now, let’s all rest up and get ready to put the whuppin’ on the Falcons in two weeks.