|I'm Good Enough, I'm Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me!|
Well that was interesting.
Okay, not really. But as Bryce Fisher once said, an ugly win is "like an ugly baby- you never see one." I've seen my fair share of both, but his words are wise in spirit. Seattle did not prove they were a great team today, but they did prove that regardless of what their record says, they are easily a cut above the worst teams in the league. This game was a long overdue reminder that the Seattle Seahawks do indeed still play in the NFC West. Its easy to forget, given that Seattle only played NFC West opponents twice in the first nine games, which non-coincidentally resulted in the Seahawks boasting the toughest strength of schedule ranking in the NFL up to that point (.598 opponent win %).
So it should come as no surprise that today the Seahawks dominated the Rams. Or did they? Honestly I'm not sure. I mean, did they really finish with 5 sacks? Is that a typo? That seems unbelievable given how absent the pass rush felt in the first 3 quarters. The Seahawks had a highly impressive 95 yard touchdown drive in this game, yet only finished with 289 yards of total offense. And the Seahawks averaged 4.2 yards per play! For comparison's sake, they had 3.5 yards per play in a shutout performance at Pittsburgh in week 2. Taken out of context, that number looks pretty pathetic. Put into context, it looks even worse, as the Rams defense (as measured by yards) ranked in the mid-twenties before this game.
But even that seems pretty kick ass compared to the Rams, who had 3.0 yards per play today. And though I'd like to compliment the Seahawks defense here, I think a lot of that was just the Rams being the Rams. It wasn't hard to find insightful analysts who predicted that Sam Bradford would have a sophomore slump while Josh McDaniels installed his notoriously high learning curve offense, but it seems they still stopped well short as doomsayers. Sam Bradford only rarely attempted passes beyond 15 yards, despite having a ton of time to throw for the first three quarters. His performance was lethargic if not pitiful, sort of like Matt Hasselbeck for most of the last 3 years, if Matt actually had time to throw for most of the game.
In fact, it donned on me late in the 4th quarter that we've all seen this game before. We saw it last year, with the 2011 Rams playing the role of the 2010 Seahawks, and the 2011 Seahawks playing the role of the 2010 Raiders. For those who haven't purged the ugly memories of that game, Seattle hung with a tough Oakland Raiders team through the first half, but at some point in the 3rd quarter, something snapped (Red Bryant's knee) and then the Raiders delivered a straight up Chuck Norris ass-kicking the rest of the way. They didn't just crush Seattle on the scoreboard or on the stat page, but on the injury report as well. It was a brutal loss that would have singlehandedly sabotaged Seattle's playoff outlook if not for the fact that they played in the maybe the weakest division in NFL history that year.
The Rams didn't suffer many injuries, but they took their fare share of big shots, particularly from Kam Chancellor and David Hawthorne. I think it says it all that the game ended in the "victory" formation, and I use quotation marks because it wasn't the victorious team doing the kneeling. As Sam Bradford took that final knee, you could just sense that the Rams offense simply wanted nothing more to do with the Seahawks defense. I'm not going to pretend that the Seahawks have an elite defense, or even a true top 10 defense. But a top 5 "nastiest" defense? Yeah, I think its safe to say that.
Its not a perfect analogy statistically, but in terms of personality, the Seahawks have already become the NFC's Raiders en route to becoming the NFC's Ravens. The Raiders haven't won a lot of games lately, but they've been consistently competitive, they dominate in a weak division, and they are not a fun team to play against. They also rack up an unbelievable amount of penalties- somehow even more than the Seahawks have.
Today the Seahawks were the bullies in an elementary school playground who ran across a 3rd grade Stuart Smalley to pick on. That's nothing to brag about, but it all counts in the standings just the same.
- My eyes were focused today on McQuistan and Giacomini, the two replacements for Seattle's injured rookies on the right side. I mean this as no slight, but McQuistan and Giacomini are pretty much the definition of "replacement level." Replacement level means a level of play you associate with a street free agent. Both Giacomini and McQuistan were free agents of the unwanted variety when Seattle signed them. Given how those two performed today, I think its safe to say that Moffitt and Carpenter were both roughly replacement level players in their rookie seasons. Perhaps a little less. Which by the way, is exactly the level of performance I'd expect. Its not exactly a well kept secret: rookie lineman are usually pretty terrible, but tend to get much better later. We need look no further than Max Unger to see that.
- So how did they play? McQuistan had a few penalties against him, but otherwise I thought he was surprisingly non-terrible. His run blocking was adequate and his pass protection fell short of a disaster (unlike his previous outings). You could say he was kind of like a jittery version of Mike Gibson (whom, it should be noted, isn't here anymore). Giacomini missed a few blocks and has shown himself to be a disappointingly limited athlete at times despite having the look of a rather athletic right tackle. It was probably a step above what Carpenter was giving us, but Carpenter was one of the worst right tackles in the league. I think of Giacomini as being a reverse Polumbus, where Polumbus was an acceptable pass blocker but a poor run blocker. The Seahawks have invested in building a run block oriented line, and even their backups tend to fit that philosophy.
- Marshawn Lynch had yet another mixed day. In the last 2 games, Seattle's run blocking has ranged from solid to outstanding, and yet in that span Lynch has only averaged 3.36 yards per carry despite getting a tremendous workload in those games. Those games helped me realize why Marshawn Lynch's yards per carry is low... really why its always been low even in his pro-bowl season. Lynch is a good athlete, but he tends to slow almost to a stop when waiting for blocks, he doesn't explode out of his cuts, he often misses out on huge cutback areas and on the rare occasion he goes untouched through the first level, his top gear isn't very fast, so he can't really take much advantage of it. In the last two games, Lynch has carried the ball 59 times and his longest among them was 12 yards. His second longest was 8 yards. Justin Forsett is hardly a home run threat, nor is he having a very good season, but even he had a 22 yard touchdown today. In other words, Lynch is missing big plays, and leaving yards on the field. Its the absence of the big play that dogs Lynch's average, and even a huge improvement in his run blocking hasn't changed that.
- Which isn't to say that Lynch was bad today. He fought for some tough yards and for the second straight week felt reliable. The only thing that separates Lynch from the good backs of the league is that he doesn't have those 20-30 yarders on occasion to pull up his average the rest of the game. Most of the time, Lynch really is a solid back, and today that was true as well. Ultimately though, the conspicuous absence of the big play is making its presence felt. I know some people will want to compare Lynch to late-career Shaun Alexander, but they were fundamentally different in one way. Even crappy-version Shaun Alexander still had big plays, but was stuffed on everything else. Lynch is pretty consistent at gaining 1-3 yards, but lacks the big runs to pull up his average, as any franchise running back would.
- Robert Gallery and Max Unger couldn't quite match the ground game dominance they had flashed in the previous two games, but they were still pretty good once again. You really have to like the left side of Seattle's line right now, especially if they can cut down on the penalties a bit.
- Sidney Rice throws a great deep ball.
- I ragged on Seattle's offense for sucking, but in fairness, a lot of that was from an atrocious dry spell to open the game. The Seahawks very first play went for 55 yards, but the remainder of their first five drives totaled -4 yards of total offense and two interceptions (on the first two passes Jackson threw). After those picks, Jackson finished the rest of the game with a 64% completion rate, a 6.72 YPA and a touchdown. Not a great performance, but after a terrible start, he settled down to be acceptably mediocre. Seattle didn't move the ball like a well oiled machine, but they did do an admirable job from the 6th drive on at converting first downs and grinding out the clock with a lead.
- There was at least one area though that you won't find me making excuses for Jackson. While Jackson did flash some good ability to keep plays alive today, he also took several monster sacks. Losing 3 or 4 yards on a sack is bad enough. But multiple times in this game, Jackson took sacks in excess of 10 yard losses, which set up down and distances such as 3rd and 25 and 3rd and 32. When its that bad, you might as well surprise them with a quarterback pooch punt on 3rd down.
- Fox broadcast color commentator Tim Ryan has a beard imported straight from 1985. Seriously, look at this magnificent thing. Given that he just arrived here going 88 miles per hour in his DeLorean, he must be rather disappointed that we still don't have flying cars.
- Chris Clemons finished with 3 sacks and two forced fumbles. I think its safe to say that Roger Saffold's absence has been felt. Its hard to believe, but thanks to this game Clemons is now only three sacks short of matching the eleven sacks he had last season, with six games left to go, and with a second Rams game among them.
- Fans of baseball are probably familiar with pitcher's face. Its the phenomena that occurs to a pitchers face during the considerable full body strain of throwing a major league pitch. For the uninitiated, here's an example. Today we got to see Sam Bradford's pitching face, except instead of being contorted from throwing a pitch, its contorted from getting slammed in the pocket by a surging pass rusher. Quite frankly, I don't know if a more beautiful picture of Sam Bradford has ever been taken.
- In what might very well be my favorite play of the 2011 season, Red Bryant recorded his first career interception on a pass tipped by Brandon Mebane, who then lumbered up the field, switched the ball to his left arm, then proceeded to stiff arm the daylights out of an unsuspecting Austin Pettis. After the play ended, you could hear Red Bryant screaming with excitement, on the bottom of a pile consisting of most of Seattle's defense. If a bible software company is ever looking for a sound effect for the story of Jesus casting a legion of demons into a herd of swine, this wouldn't be a bad place to start.