The thing about this game was, it didn't sting. Seahawks fans will never forget or forgive what happened in Superbowl XL, and even though this was an opponent still with one third of that same XL roster and the same head official, Bill Leavy, I couldn't help but feel that this was just another game. After all, none of the coaches, none of the front office members, and only two members of the Seahawks Superbowl XL team were on the field today, Trufant and Hill. Even if Seattle had pulled a mighty upset today, it would have felt nice, but not nearly as nice as it would have felt in 2007, when a much better and much more 2005 connected Seahawks team lost 21-0. For all but two Seahawks, today probably felt like just another loss.
Seattle was outgained today 421 to 164. Outside of the first few minutes of the game, there wasn't much doubt who the better team was. Brandon just wrote a post calling this game a "wake-up call." I agree that there was a wake-up element to this game, in which I realized that Seattle really might just be the worst team in the NFL after all. The 49ers game left a lot of doubt in that regard, since Seattle dominated the 2nd half and pulled to within 2 points before Ted Ginn took our special teams back behind the woodshed. Today though, Ben Roethlisberger averaged almost 10 yards per pass attempt, and the Steelers moved the ball at will. The only reason the score wasn't higher was because the Steelers would grind so much of the clock on their drives (averaging nearly 4 minutes of game clock per drive, which is a lot more than it sounds like). In a game that was turnover free, the Steelers nearly doubled the Seahawks in time of possession. Seattle was inept on offense, and soft on defense.
And if we are honest about it, this kind of thing isn't new for the Seahawks. Last year had some big plays and a few big games, but it was also a season in which the offense finished bottom 10 and the defense finished bottom 5. This year's defense looks a lot like last year's, and the offense looks much worse. There may come a time this season where we might stop rooting for improvements and instead root for replacements. I think a lot of fans have already reached that stage with Tarvaris Jackson. The Seahawks home opener is a week away, but I can almost hear the "Charlie! Charlie!" chants beginning already. Marshawn Lynch could be next. There's no doubt that fans will look for scapegoat players, and the struggles of Jackson and Lynch will make them obvious targets, fair or not.
There wasn't much to talk about after this snoozer, but a few things I noticed over the course of the game:
- Red Bryant nearly blocked a PAT, and by his reaction afterwards, you got the sense that he came even closer than it looked on TV. I don't know if the Red Bryant style of defense is a great idea, but its no knock on Red Bryant the player. Red Bryant has been a hell of a contributor and a big reason why Pete Carroll has stuck with the LEO defense.
- Aaron Curry dropped what might have been a pick 6 early in the game. A game stoppage was called before the next play was run, so Curry had an extra minute to think about what happened. I don't have a screenshot handy, but on one of the broadcast reaction shots afterwards, it looked to me like Curry's eyes were a little watery. If nothing else, Aaron Curry is a really intense and emotional dude. If he ends up being labeled a "bust" here in Seattle, it certainly isn't for a lack of heart for the game.
- Brandon Browner was penalized pretty unfairly against the 49ers, but he earned his penalties today. The long pass interference call at the start of the game was one of the most blatant and easy PI calls I've seen. In a way though, I don't blame Browner for making the penalty. He was beat, and the penalty prevented a sure touchdown. Seattle went on to make a successful goal line stand 4 plays later. Pass interference in the endzone is a devastating penalty. But sometimes, its the right thing to do. Now he just needs to improve his coverage so penalties like those won't be necessary.
- On said goal line stand, Seattle pushed the Steelers all the way back to the 8 yard line following an Atari Bigby sack. On third and goal from the 8, Big Ben bought time, couldn't find an open receiver, then attempted to run for it, and very nearly scored, colliding with defenders with the ball coming mere centimeters from the goal line. Watching it live, I actually thought he did score, it was that close. It was an eery parallel to Roethlisberger's infamous phantom TD in XL (which also occurred on 3rd and goal in a similar game situation). It was called a TD in that game and somehow upheld by instant replay. This time it wasn't. Something tells me that Bill Leavy and his crew were going to give Seattle the benefit of the doubt on this one. This time, they got it right.
- Brandon Browner wasn't just penalized, but in a worrisome development, he struggled with his press responsibilities and was frequently burned. Hopefully this is just an off day for Browner. Richard Sherman has been impressive in spurts, but I wouldn't feel great about him pushing Browner for the 2nd CB job this early in Sherman's development. There's Walter Thurmond, but he's a little dicey as well.
- While the pass defense did indeed suck today, the run defense did its job, holding Rashard Mendenhall to 66 yards on 19 carries and holding the Steelers as a team to 3.54 yards per carry, despite being on the field most of the game and despite 35 rush attempts against. They also looked strong in short yardage and goal line situations.
- Its easy to get upset about how bad the Seahawks defense looks. To be sure, it hardly looks elite, and it hasn't changed much from last year, when it was pretty bad. But if instead of focusing on the Steelers game, we focused on the season at large, we get a different picture. Seattle has played one bad QB and one near elite one. They faced two good running games. And they played on the road without the benefit of the 12th man, and Seattle has always played better defense at home. The defense has allowed 315 yards a game (good enough for 10th place in 2010). They've allowed just 21.5 points per game (good for 16th in 2010). Their red zone efficiency has been more good than bad. This defense has some serious issues, but its not a disaster. Elite QBs will carve it up, but that's what elite QBs do. I'm not trying to make excuses for the defense, but considering that this is still a unit made up of scraps and spare parts, I'll take it for now.
- One of the few bright spots today was the improvement by James Carpenter at right tackle. For just today, he arguably outplayed Okung, who again struggled with false start penalties. There was a night and day difference with Carpenter's stoutness against the bullrush, and he was able to string edge rushers far enough upfield to give Jackson a chance to step up to avoid them.
- In fact, the line as a whole provided better pass protection than the 5 sacks would indicate. All of the sacks came on blitzes, which is to be expected against a 3-4. Only once did I see a lineman blow a block which lead to a sack, and that was when John Moffitt looked to his right and didn't notice an inside blitzer until it was too late. Most of the sacks were just good defensive play calls, and a few of them were on Tarvaris himself. For a guy so mobile, he gives up on avoiding sacks really easily. His eyes go down, and if a defender comes within a couple yards, Jackson is already on his way to the ground to avoid a hit. Whoever Seattle's QB of the future is, its important that he do better at avoiding pressure than Jackson has. Jackson's inability to manage a pass rush is as big a reason for the shutout as the lack of running game was.
- The running game was its usual self. Little push with Lynch pounding for 1-2 yard gains. The line may own more blame than Lynch, but the line at least gets the benefit of being young and new. Is it really so crazy to suggest giving Forsett and Washington more reps? Zone blocking rush offenses are built around the search for a running back who clicks with the system, and right now, that isn't Lynch.