The big questions heading into week two are: was Week 1 an aberration, or a sign of things to come? And, if it’s a sign of things to come, how good can this Seahawks team really be?
All you can really do – heading into a new season – is review any roster changes and see how they might fit with what you’ve seen from that team in the past. Generally, you would compare this team to what it was in 2019, but we have ten years’ worth of Seahawks teams to look at with respect to Pete Carroll, eight of those years with Russell Wilson. Knowing what we know, having seen what we’ve seen, it was sensible to expect more of the same: a balanced offense, relying on the defense to keep it close, and hope our All Pro quarterback can pull it out in the fourth quarter. For a team that’s only missed the playoffs twice under Pete Carroll – and only once with Russell Wilson at quarterback – clearly “If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It” comes into account.
That’s why last week was such a shock – a welcome shock, don’t get me wrong – because it was SO unexpected. Part of me saw them throwing on that first drive and thought, “Well, they’re just doing this to shut the fans up; they’ll get back to a run-heavy approach on the next drive.” But, the passes kept coming, and coming, and coming, and before we knew what hit us, the Seahawks turned into the 2019 Chiefs!
You’ll recall that’s a team that won the Super Bowl. So, in answer to the second big question listed at the top: that’s how good this team can be. With Russell Wilson playing out of his mind, with this offense putting up that many points every week, it doesn’t really matter what the defense does; as long as it’s not dead-last in all of football, this team will win 12+ games, the NFC West, and could very well advance to the Super Bowl if things go right in the playoffs.
BUT, remember that caveat: if Week 1 was a sign of things to come, and not just a one-time treat.
I’m going to stick with my cautiously-optimistic stance for a bit here (instead of full-blown elation), for two reasons. For starters, Pete Carroll was already quoted this week complaining about how few carries the running backs had against Atlanta. 16 carries split between the three of them. Chris Carson is still one of the best running backs in football – as evidenced by his two receiving touchdowns – but he only had six carries! That’s not good enough. In a game we won by double-digits, it’s weird that we didn’t have more of a running game presence in the fourth quarter. So, I would expect Carroll will get his way as early as this week in pounding the rock more than we did last week.
The other cause for concern is our opponent: the New England Patriots. Their defense is crafted much like ours, in that their biggest strength is in the secondary. While I don’t expect the Seahawks to completely revert back to their 2019 form, it would make sense to neutralize things a little bit by hitting the Pats where they’re weakest: defending the run.
That isn’t to say the Pats are bad at defending the run; I can’t say with any certainty one way or the other. Against the Dolphins last week, they held them to 87 yards and a 3.2 yards per carry average; however, the Dolphins’ top two rushers combined for 62 of those yards on 14 carries, for a 4.4 yard average. The Dolphins were playing from behind for most of the game, so they didn’t have the luxury of working that part of their offense in more.
It’ll be REALLY interesting to see what how the Patriots gameplan the Seahawks’ offense. Bill Belichick famously creates a new scheme every week, based on his opponent, to take away whatever it is they do best. Now, he’s a smart man, and he surely knows Russell Wilson is what this team does best, so I don’t expect him to neglect defending the pass in any way. But, will he see this Seahawks team through the lens of what happened last week, or the previous ten years?
The Seahawks offense has been built around two concepts: running the ball and completing deep passes. Last week, the Seahawks completed exactly one deep pass (the 4th down touchdown to D.K. Metcalf), and as I mentioned, hardly ran the ball at all. Most of these were short-to-intermediate routes, which is completely counter to everything we’ve ever done before. Pete Carroll prides himself on his offenses taking care of the football. Running, and throwing deep balls to guys in one-on-one situations, are the safest things you can do. As long as your running back isn’t a fumbler, with a guy like Wilson chucking it, you feel like you have a minimal risk of turning it over on a bomb (either your guy gets it, or it’s incomplete; even in the rare instances where it’s picked, that’s still sort of like a punt in the field position game). The odds of turning it over increase when you throw it a lot, and throw it in those short-to-intermediate routes (where there are lots of different defenders running around, some in areas you wouldn’t expect them to be).
Ultimately, I don’t think the Seahawks are going to totally revert to what they’ve always done, but I do think it will be difficult to run that same gameplan out there for a second week in a row and have the same level of success. I think the running game will have to be incorporated more, for the simple reason that I don’t think the Patriots’ coverage will be as soft as the Falcons’ coverage was last week. If their corners start bullying our receivers at the line of scrimmage, or if the Pats play significantly more zone – while their D-Line does everything it can to keep Wilson in the pocket – I think that’ll open us up to switch to running plays at the line of scrimmage. It won’t be the coaching staff asserting their dominance, it’ll be Wilson doing the smart thing and checking to what the defense is giving us.
It has never made sense to continually pound the running back into 8-man boxes. I think what we saw against the Falcons had to do with exactly that: giving our quarterback the freedom to make smart decisions on the fly.
I actually like the Seahawks in this one. It’s a night game, for one, and you know how we always show up for those. While the home-field advantage won’t be there – with no fans in the stands – I would argue that hasn’t been as effective in recent years, as most teams have adapted to playing on a silent count. I just think we’re better than them at this point.
Now, that isn’t to say I believe we’ll blow out the Pats (though, I’m not throwing that concept out of bed either). I kind of see this as a normal Seattle/Carolina matchup, only with a better coaching staff. Cam Newton is the star of that offense (an offense that is pretty bereft of talent, even by Cam Newton standards); he’ll be the man we need to beat. The Patriots have built an offense that features his skillset (meaning: lots of designed quarterback runs) that might end up being even better than some of those elite offenses he ran with the Panthers (having him on a one-year deal makes this more palatable, as if you run him into the ground or get him injured, it’s no long-term risk to your franchise). With Julian Edelman being the only guy that scares you from that receiving corps, it’s never been more The Cam Newton Show than it will be this year. And, for as savvy as Edelman is, I think our cornerbacks won’t have trouble keeping up with him, for the most part.
It’s almost like the Seahawks traded for Jamal Adams with this game in mind in particular. As we all saw, Adams was all over the place last week, frequently up at the line of scrimmage pre-snap, and also frequently diving into the backfield to chase after the quarterback or running back. He was often successful, and more importantly, he punished anyone that he ended up hitting. My biggest concern in this game isn’t the pass rush; it’s the run defense. The Falcons, when they did run the ball, were pretty successful, including a number of chunk runs through considerable holes created by their otherwise so-so offensive line. It’s been YEARS since the Patriots have had an alpha dog at running back; they usually have three or four guys they like to work in there throughout every game. So, it doesn’t really matter who they hand it to, if their O-Line is able to do to our run defense what the Falcons were able to do, they’re going to have an easy time moving the ball down the field (made even easier by the fact that Cam Newton, when healthy, is in the top two among rushing quarterbacks with Lamar Jackson).
That’s where Jamal Adams comes in. Cam is an elite runner; we need an elite defender to shadow him. Bobby Wagner has traditionally been that man for us, and he’ll certainly play a significant role in following Cam around and keeping him in check. But, as we saw last year, Bobby can’t do everything by himself. Having Adams right there with him should be the difference-maker in keeping this Patriots offense from blowing up.
I’ll also be very interested in seeing what Bruce Irvin and L.J. Collier can do in setting the edge on either side of the line. Keeping Cam contained as a scrambler is just as important as stopping him on those designed runs. Irvin didn’t seem to do a whole lot last week, but as the game went on I thought he did a good job of setting that edge (of course, where is the statue that is Matt Ryan going to run to?); he’s going to be vital in this one, and I think he has what it takes to step up in a big way.
I’m a little over 50% convinced the Seahawks win in a close game. I also think there’s a reasonable chance we prevail by double-digits again (in which case, go ahead and lump us in with the Ravens and Chiefs as the best teams in football, because it’ll be Go Time, my friends!). The only way we lose is the same way most elite offenses like ours end up losing: by keeping them on the sidelines. If the Patriots convert an insanely-high percentage of 3rd/4th downs and dominate Time of Possession, they could steal a close one late in the game. There’s an infinitesimal chance the Pats blow us out, so small as to not even be worth thinking about.
I am SOOOOOO excited for this game! Even more than I was last week, and that had all the juice of being the first game of football I’ve seen since the Super Bowl (not counting the Thursday Night game, of course). I think we’re all holding our breath and crossing our fingers and rubbing our lucky rabbit’s feet that this offense will come out slinging it just like we did last week (and, not only that, but producing a similar type of production from a points perspective). All of our collective worst nightmare is if we continue to throw the ball and it fails; we endure multiple 3 & Outs and turnovers in the process. Because then, you seriously have to wonder about the coaching staff abandoning it and going back to what worked before.
Our enjoyment of football is on the line, people! On the biggest stage, against history’s best-ever football coach, and the team that has far-and-away won the most football games over the last two decades! If we succeed here, the rest of 2020 shapes up as one of the most fun football seasons we’ve ever seen. If we fail, the cost will be enormous.
I know I sound like those lying politicians who say this election is the most important in history (how can they ALL be the most important?), but I’ve never been so on edge for a Week 2 football game in my life. I’m 1-0 in both of my fantasy football leagues, yet all I can think about is the actual football team I follow? You KNOW this is a big one!