By John Boyle
What stood out most about the Seahawks’ 34-22 victory over the Arizona Cardinals is that it didn’t need to be that close. Yes, a 12-point road victory is nothing to sneeze at, but if not for two fumbles deep in their own territory and a block-in-the back penalty on what would have been a Golden Tate punt return for a touchdown, the Seahawks really could have rolled in this one.
The Seahawks are 6-1 for the first time in franchise history, and they’ve already matched last year’s total with three road victories, so any criticism at this point feels like nitpicking to a degree, but it’s hard not to think that the only thing in the Seahawks’ way right now is themselves. We can’t just assume those mistakes will go away, but if the Seahawks can clean up the ball security issues and cut back on some of the costly penalties, they have the potential to be really dangerous as the season goes on, especially after they get impact players like Russell Okung and Percy Harvin back.
And since the Seahawks now have six victories, let’s look at six things that stood out from Thursday night’s win.
1. Fumbles notwithstanding, Russell Wilson was spectacular. Wilson’s numbers (18 for 29, 235 yards, 3 TDs, 122.1 passer rating) were impressive. Yet they didn’t come close to illustrating how good he was.
First, let’s get the negative out of the way, Wilson needs to be more careful with the ball. Yes, a lot of quarterback fumbles are the result of poor protection, but three fumbles is just too many, and in the case of the second-quarter fumble that led to an Arizona touchdown, Wilson saw Matt Shaughnessy coming, it wasn’t a blindside hit, yet he still lost the ball.
But enough about that, let’s get to the many impressive plays Wilson made. For starters, that 31-yard touchdown to Sidney Rice was about as pretty of a throw as you’ll ever see. Flushed out of the pocked by pressure, Wilson threw a 50-yard strike off his back foot, while on the run. The off-balanced throw was a perfect example of how, as Wilson often points out, his baseball background helps him in football. That might have looked like an awkward throw for a quarterback, but not for a middle infielder, which Wilson was in the Colorado Rockies’ minor league system.
Yet that might not have been Wilson’s most impressive throw thanks to the absurd third-down throw-while-getting-tackled that Zach Miller was able to come up with thanks to a nice diving effort of his own.
Wilson continues to be a magician making things happen with his legs, and those scramble plays have become integral to the passing game. Rice’s touchdown didn’t happen because he was wide open on his initial route, it came when Wilson was flushed out of the pocket, and Rice had the awareness of what the defenders were doing around him to realize the big play was there for the taking.
“He has become such a special aspect of our team,” Pete Carroll said in his postgame press conference. “I don’t know what it would be like to be without it. It’s instrumental to everything we’re doing.”
2. And speaking of third-down completions… After going 2 for 12 on third down two weeks ago and 5 for 13 last week, the Seahawks took another step forward Thursday, converting on 7 of 12 third downs, including both third downs on their second touchdown drive.
3. Kam Chancellor blowing up 302-pound right tackle Eric Winston before making a tackle for loss might have been the most impressive play of the game. Seriously, watch that a few times. That’s a defensive back, albeit a very large one, destroying an offensive lineman.
4. Brandon Browner had one heck of a bounce-back game. Four days ago, Browner was benched for the better part of a half after giving up a big play and a couple of catches in succession. On Thursday, he looked like the player who made a Pro Bowl in 2011. From the pass breakup on a throw to Larry Fitzgerald that set up an Earl Thomas interception, to Browner’s own interception that should have been a pick-six if not for the 10-yard line tripping him, Browner had one of his better games in recent memory.
5. Defensive players took turns stepping up. From Thomas’ and Browner’s interceptions, to the effort of the entire secondary that held Larry Fitzgerald to two catches for 17 yards, to the constant pressure on Carson Palmer—eight players combined for a season-high seven sacks—it was a team effort that held the Cardinals to just 234 yards.
One player who stood out in particular was Malcolm “Woody” Smith, who had a team-high eight tackles, one sack and two tackles for loss while starting his second straight game as an injury replacement. Smith was a starter at strongside linebacker at the start of the season, but with Bruce Irvin back Smith figured to be the odd man out. Bobby Wagner’s ankle injury, however, moved K.J. Wright to middle linebacker, putting Smith back into the starting lineup at weakside linebacker.
And if you’re wondering where Woody came from—I really doubt that nickname is going to stick, despite my best efforts—it’s because after linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr. said getting Bruce Irvin back was like getting a new toy, Smith joked on Twitter that this must be like what Woody felt like in Toy Story. (So I guess we call Irvin “Buzz Lightyear?)
Also worth noting, Clinton McDonald has been a very underrated acquisition since the Seahawks re-signed the DT who they cut prior to the start of the season. McDonald got in on the sack parade, and as he has been for most of the year, he was very difficult to block as an interior pass rusher.
6. The road showing by Seahawks fans was pretty amazing. Seriously, if you were one of the many Seahawks fans at University of Phoenix Stadium, take a bow. That showing of support after the game during Russell Wilson’s NFL Network interview was very impressive.