By John Boyle
During a conversation with K.J. Wright earlier in the week, the Seahawks linebacker talked about how every win in the NFL, no matter how ugly, was significant. Yes, the Seahawks were coming off back-to-back unimpressive victories over St. Louis and winless Tampa Bay, but at Wright noted, barely winning beats the alternative. Then Wright smiled and added, “but we want some pretty wins.”
Well, K.J., what just unfolded in Atlanta, a 33-10 thrashing of the Falcons, that qualifies as a pretty win. In their most complete performance of the season, the Seahawks didn’t just dominate on the road to improve to 9-1, they did so by fixing two of the deficiencies in their game that have led to closer-than-expected scores in the previous two games—a suddenly porous run defense and pass protection that has been an issue all year.
“We wanted to send the message that we’re ready to step up and play at this level,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said in his postgame press conference.
So how did the Seahawks go from winning ugly to the prettiest of road victories? Here are five reasons.
1. Even short-handed, Seattle’s O-line took a big step forward
For the third time this season, the Seahawks went into a game minus three of their five starting linemen, but unlike past games when Seahawks pass protection has been something of an oxymoron, Seattle’s line gave Russell Wilson plenty of time to pass, and it showed in an incredibly efficient day for Wilson that saw him complete 19 of 26 passes for 287 yards and two touchdowns. That’s an average of just over 11 yards per pass attempt, an absurd number in the NFL.
The Seahawks allowed only one sack Sunday—and Wilson should have thrown that one away—and more importantly, only three quarterback hits. Wilson wasn’t sacked last week, but that was a rather misleading stat, as he took more hard hits than he had all year.
The improved pass protection was a group effort, but Alvin Bailey deserves a mention for playing well in an increased role, playing both LT and also filling in at RG when J.R. Sweezy appeared to be momentarily banged up.
The run blocking, already solid, looked good again, paving the way to season-high 145 yards by Marshawn Lynch.
2. What run defense problems?
After giving up 405 rushing yards in the past two weeks, Seattle’s run D was obviously a big topic of conversation this week, and the Seahawks clearly cleaned things up. Granted, it was against a rushing attack that ranked 32nd in the NFL, but holding Stephen Jackson to 11 yards on 9 carries, and the Falcons to 64 rushing yards, showed that Seattle’s run defense fixed some of its issues.
The aforementioned Wright played a big role in that, especially early with four first-quarter tackles. Bobby Wagner, who hasn’t quite looked himself since returning from an ankle injury, took a step forward as well, and finished with a team-high nine tackles.
3. Even without Sidney Rice and Percy Harvin, the Seahawks have playmakers at receiver
I’ve heard a few people say this season that the Seahawks offense isn’t explosive. That’s just not true; they’ve actually been among the league leaders all year in explosive plays. What the offense has been is inconsistent, but on a day when everything was clicking, the Seahawks were both consistent and explosive, leading to a season-high 490-yard day. The Seahawks punted only twice Sunday, and scored on seven of their first eight possessions. In addition to improved line play and another impressive day by Wilson, Seattle’s receivers deserve a ton of credit too for Seattle’s offensive output.
The Seahawks had seven plays of 20 or more yards, including three of 40 or more, six of which were pass plays. Oh, and that didn’t included Golden Tate’s absurd one-handed touchdown at the end of the first half.
Tate led the way with 106 yards on six catches—he also had 55 yards on three punt returns—Doug Baldwin had 76 on five catches, and Jermaine Kearse, the man whose role increased significantly with Rice out, took advantage of his chances, gaining 75 yards on just three catches, including a 43-yard touchdown on a trick play that saw Marshawn Lynch take a pitch, then throw a backwards pass back to Wilson, who fired a deep ball to Kearse.
4. You knew this already, but a reminder that the Seahawks are loaded at CB
For most teams, losing a Pro Bowl cornerback like Brandon Browner could be a recipe for disaster. For the Seahawks it was a minor inconvenience. Seriously, how often after Browner went out with a groin injury did you find yourself thinking, “Boy, they’re really missing BB right now?” Now that’s not to say Browner doesn’t make the Seahawks defense better—they are better off with him—but rather to point out how strong Seattle’s depth is behind Browner. As was the case when Browner was out at the beginning of the season with a hamstring injury, Walter Thurmond took on a starting role, and like Browner, played a physical brand of cornerback that saw him make several big open-field tackles. Thurmond also forced and recovered a fumble to negate one of the Falcons rare big plays in the passing game. Byron Maxwell was also solid coming on when Seattle was in its nickel defense; even Atlanta’s touchdown with Maxwell in coverage saw him get a hand on the ball.
“We’ve got a lot of depth, we’ve got a lot of great corners,” Richard Sherman told Q-13 Fox after the game. “Walter Thurmond is a great starting corner, so we’ll be fine.”
5. Seattle’s road issues no longer an issue
Inevitably, you’re bound to hear somebody who hasn’t been paying attention say the Seahawks are a great team at home, but one that struggles on the road, especially when traveling east. And when you hear that, tell that person that he/she is very uninformed. It used to be true that the Seahawks struggled away from home, but Sunday’s win was a good reminder that that simply isn’t the case any more. Going back to last season, the Seahawks are 7-1 on the road in the regular season, including a 4-1 record in 10 a.m. PT games. Seattle’s five road wins this season matches a franchise best, and the Seahawks have two more chances to improve on that total.
Are the Seahawks better at home? Sure, but what NFL team isn’t. What the Seahawks have become, however, is a team capable of playing well in any time zone.