With a 23-0 victory over the New York Giants — Seattle's first shutout victory on the road since a 42-0 win in Philadelphia in 2005 — the Seahawks improved to 12-2, which means they can wrap up the NFC West and the NFC's No. 1 seed with one victory in their final two games, both of which are at home. So if we're assuming a team that hasn't lost at home since 2011 can manage at least a split in the next two, then that means all that separates the Seahawks from a return trip to New Jersey for the Super Bowl are two playoff games at CenturyLink Field.
There's still plenty of work to be done, but things are certainly setting up well for Seattle.
"We had a terrific football game today," Pete Carroll said in his postgame press conference. "I really loved the way we played across the board. . . It's as complete a game as we've had."
Then again, this version of the Seahawks could probably win a road playoff game or two if they had to. Not only did the Seahawks establish a franchise record with those six road wins, they've also gone 4-1 in the 10 a.m. PT games that used to be so dreaded. I've said it before, but it's worth repeating, anyone who tells you the Seahawks struggle on the road is just regurgitating an old story line and not paying attention to what the team has done over the past year and a half. Sure they're better at home, but with a few very rare exceptions, that's true of almost every team in sports.
So what stood out in this dominant victory over New York (besides the fact that the Giants are pretty terrible)? Here are 5 things:
1. Seattle's defense had a very good game
Yes, the Giants offense is pretty awful, but still, holding a team to no points and 181 total yards is pretty impressive. Most notably the Seahawks intercepted Eli Manning five times and sacked him four times. Just as impressive, the Giants didn't get the ball into Seahawks territory until late in the fourth quarter.
"There's no way to sugarcoat it, it was a pathetic offensive performance," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said in his postgame press conference. "We didn't block anybody, we didn't make any plays, we didn't create any opportunities for ourselves."
Were the Giants pathetic on offense? Yes, but the Seahawks had a lot to do with that.
And speaking of those interceptions. . .
2. Seattle's cornerback depth is ridiculous
Byron Maxwell had two interceptions, and nickel corner Jeremy Lane played an incredibly good overall game, both defensively and on special teams. Up until a few weeks ago, those two were special teams players who were Seattle's fourth and fifth options at cornerback. Pete Carroll has been a head coach long enough that it's sometimes easy to forget that he made his name in football as a defensive assistant who excelled at coaching up defensive backs.
Oh, and that No. 1 option at corner? He had a pretty good day too. Richard Sherman intercepted Eli Manning twice, giving him six for the season which is tied for the NFL lead. Sherman also had an "assist" on Earl Thomas' interception that helped preserve the shutout. And if you don't think Sherman was batting the ball to Thomas intentionally, watch that play again, then skip to the 6:30 mark of this video:
Sherman said the Seahawks were motivated a bit by talk from the Giants during the week, telling reporters, "There were a few things said during the week — Eli said we were over-aggressive and that they were going to take advantage of that. I think we showed them we are over-aggressive, but it's hard to take advantage of it. It's easier said than done."
3. Marshawn Lynch is very hard to tackle
I know, that's some hard-hitting analysis, right? But seriously, watch that touchdown run again. It's pretty nuts, even when you see it knowing the type of runner he is.
But actually, what stood out more about Lynch's day wasn't his running, but rather the game he had as a pass catcher, leading the Seahawks with 73 yards on six receptions. Lynch now has 307 receiving yards this season, a career-high, which only adds another element to an already strong passing attack.
4. The offense still has room to grow
As well as the defense played, the score probably should have been a lot more lopsided. But the reason the Seahawks "only" won by 23 points is that the offense wasn't quite hitting on all cylinders Sunday. Early on, penalties turned a couple of third-and-manageable plays into third-and-longs, leading to punts, and the running game was again less than stellar, with the Seahawks averaging just 3.9 yard per carry, and Lynch being held to 47 yards on 16 attempts.
And even on a day when Russell Wilson joined Dan Marino and Peyton Manning as the only quarterbacks to throw 50 or more touchdown passes in his first two seasons, and passed Ben Roethlisberger for the most wins by a quarterback in his first two seasons (23), the Seahawks quarterback wasn't at his best. He made a rare bad decision, throwing a pass into double coverage that was intercepted, and he uncharacteristically missed open receivers a couple of times. That's not to say Wilson was bad, far from it, he just wasn't quite the dominant players we've been seeing during the second half of the season.
All of that contributed to the Seahawks going just 3 for 13 on third down and punting on 7 of 13 possessions (though two of those were in garbage time with backups in on offense).
5. Punt protection needs to get better
The Seahawks excel on special teams in so many ways. After a four-yard punt return by the Giants, the Seahawks have now given up just 19 punt return yards this year, their kick coverage is usually strong, and Steven Hauschka is automatic, but one trouble area is their ability to protect Jon Ryan. The Seahawks have had two punts blocked this season, both on rushes up the middle, and on multiple occasions Sunday the Giants came close to getting to Ryan (they were flagged for running into him once) with pressure up the middle. For as much pride as the Seahawks take in their special teams play, you can bet that will be addressed in meetings and practice this week.
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