|Even when running Marshawn Lynch is celebrating his next touchdown|
The Seahawks avoided the unthinkable Monday night. Its not very often fans of a 5-7 team feel that victory is all but guaranteed, but these 2011 Rams are a special case. For the season they are averaging just over 11 points a game. Its stunning to me that essentially the same group of personnel very nearly won the NFC West last year. Perhaps even more mind-blowing is that one of their two wins this year was by 10 points over the currently 10-3 New Orleans Saints, who have scored nearly triple as many points for the season. That was 6 weeks ago. The Saints haven't lost since.
If the Saints could do the unthinkable, so could Seattle. And through the first two quarters, Seattle may have held a 10-3 lead, but they were actually losing in terms of yardage and time of possession despite the fact that Sam Bradford was having an incredibly bad night. To the Rams credit, I thought their defense did an excellent job taking away any outside plays, whether run or pass. For whatever reason, Seattle kept dialing up plays outside, despite having two backups at the tackle spots, and the Rams kept dominating on them.
That changed in the 2nd half, when the Seahawks suddenly remembered that Robert Gallery and Max Unger still existed and were, you know, pretty good at run blocking. For what seems like almost every game since Dallas in week nine, Seattle once again won the battle of the interior, which is extra nice since Lynch is pretty much the very definition of a north/south runner anyway. Lynch dominated the second half, which caused the Rams to dial back the pass rush, which in turn helped Tarvaris Jackson to overcome a terrible first half and finish with a good 96.4 passer rating, a good 65.6% completion rate and a solid 7.0 yards per attempt. While its easy to be negative about Jackson, one can only imagine the excitement that a high first round quarterback would generate with numbers like those in a 30-13 win. Of course, all of that production was made possible by an effective 2nd half running game. Normally in the NFL, its the pass that sets up the run, but for a team with a mediocre quarterback at the helm, things are reversed. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing when you have the most consistent rushing attack in the league.
Seattle did play an ugly first half, but the second half was nothing short of dominant, at least on offense. Stop me if you've heard this before: the Seahawks played better in the second half than in the first half. I've been watching the Seahawks for 21 years, and I'm not sure I've ever looked forward to halftime as much as I have watching the 2011 team.
As always, here are some of my random observations from the game:
- I'm not a fantasy football player (or "owner," lol). My brother is, and he takes it very seriously, even putting money on it most years. Last night he was poised to win his first round fantasy playoff game, but his opponent was starting Marshawn Lynch and Doug Baldwin. Needless to say, he got his ass kicked. As an aside, how cool is it that actual Seahawks players, multiple Seahawks even, are making a difference in fantasy leagues? That's not something we've heard much in recent years. Sorry if this comes across as fortune cookie wisdom, but that probably means something. At least I think it does. Maybe.
- Throughout the game, I found it almost nauseating how many fans all came up with the same "clever" idea of making Skittles-Lynch fan signs. There was very little variation or originality, as nearly every sign said "feed the beast" or "taste the beast" with drawings of Skittles and Marshawn Lynch. It grew so tiring so fast that I hesitated to mention Skittles in the title, but I can hardly pass up the chance to be a smug hypocrite. The whole skittles quirk Lynch possess is pretty cool/funny, don't get me wrong, but its funny in a rather esoteric manner: which is to say it makes for a funny story but not a funny bumper sticker.
- That being said, I nearly had a heart attack from laughing so hard after Lynch scored his record tying touchdown for the 9th straight game. At least two packs of Skittles were thrown on the field, and after some fan had worked up the courage, he/she literally showered a celebrating Lynch with little Skittles candies. The slow-motion replay shows the candy falling slowly from the sky around Lynch in a manner not unlike rose petals descending on a liberating general as he marches his troops through the town plaza.
- Another week, another improved performance by Lynch. While I wouldn't call this Lynch's best game of the season, it might have been his most impressive. This same Rams defense held Lynch to only 3.3 yards per carry only 4 weeks ago, and that was when Seattle still had left tackle Russell Okung. Lynch seems to be getting more athletic as the season wears on, and on numerous occasions he made impressively quick backfield cuts and for the second straight week made defenders miss. This was on top of his excellent yards after contact total (over a third of his yards were after contact). When Lynch is running like this, its almost like he's a 25 year old version of Alabama's Trent Richardson- a guy that will almost certainly be a top 10 pick next year. If Carpenter and Moffitt progress next year the way that Unger has this year, and if Lynch continues these performances, the Seahawks could be in for a very exciting 2012.
- I loved everything about Doug Baldwin's blocked punt. I loved that Mike Tirico had the timely awareness to note Baldwin's presence on the edge less than 5 seconds before the block. I loved that Baldwin blocked the punt without even touching the punter somehow, which is extremely difficult to do and a big reason blocked punts are rarely attempted. I loved that he could have "intercepted" the punt had he actually tried for it. And of course, I loved that it scored a touchdown in front of thousands of geeked fans.
- Baldwin also finished with 93 recieving yards and a touchdown. You know what's neat? He's a free agent after this year. I wonder how James Carpenter, John Moffitt, K.J. Wright and Richard Sherman feel about potentially having a combined salary lower than what Baldwin could be making in 2012? Undrafted free agency folks. Getting drafted is for suckers. (Edit: While Spotrac.com- a site that specializes in contract information- has reported the Baldwin is on a 1 year deal and a RFA next season; other sources have reported that Baldwin is on a 3 year deal since that's what UDFA's are supposed to get with the new CBA. Baldwin's deal was "undisclosed" at the time of its signing, so I'm not 100% which one is right. I'm going with Spotrac for now, since they seem like the most credible source.)
- Sam Bradford's 12/29 numbers look ugly already, but consider also that Bradford (by my count) had a whopping six interceptable pass attempts that hit Seahawks defenders on the hands (and that's not counting tip-aways). Only one of those was actually intercepted. Bradford is a talented quarterback, but I'm not sure I've ever seen a quarterback look as out of rhythm as Bradford in 2011. At this point you almost wonder if the Rams are actually hoping Scott Pioli calls up McDaniels for the head coaching vacancy in Kansas City.
- Steven Jackson has been a Ram since 2004. He has 8843 career rushing yards. He still hasn't had a 100 yard rushing game against the Seahawks.
- Its tempting to look at the stats (2 sacks, 115 rushing yards by Lynch) and assume that the offensive line played well, but that would be inaccurate. All season long, the interior of the Seahawks line has carried the day, and this was more true on Monday night than ever. Giacomini struggled with the edge rush all night. McQuistan predictably struggled even worse with the edge rush at left tackle. On what felt like every pass play, both tackles were 3-5 yards in the backfield within seconds of the snap. I don't know if it was their fault, but the outside running game was mostly terrible last night. Seattle's interior pretty much saved the day with some terrific second half blocking that consistently opened holes and even had relatively strong interior pass blocking compared to the bookends. If Jeanpierre continues his quality play, I think he should be considered as a viable competitor for Moffitt's job next preseason.
- I wasn't terribly happy with some of the calls last night. Brandon Browner was the victim of a phantom illegal contact penalty, and I wasn't terribly happy with the endzone interference call on Sherman. Sherman did touch and ever so slightly pull on the receivers shoulder, but immediately let go and I think I'd be generous to say that it might have moved the shoulder an inch or two. It was clearly a case, I thought, of non-intentional, non-significant contact. It wasn't a bad call, but its the kind of call that Mike Pereira secretly hates having to defend on NFL Network every week. Maybe its just me, but Seattle does appear to slowly be cutting back on the penalties. Having refs making chippy calls isn't helping though. I've forgiven Bill Leavy for Superbowl XL, but last night was a reminder of what he's capable of. He's not a terrible official, but it would be nice if his crews were a bit more gun-shy about making fringe calls. Nobody likes a ref who calls a tight game.
- Seattle began the year as a team who was the media favorite to win the Andrew Luck sweepstakes, and followed that up by starting 2-6. It just amazes me that after last night's win, the Seahawks were actually shown on the playoff contender shortlist. Coolstandings.com gives Seattle only a 7.8% chance of making the playoffs, but how many teams that start 2-6 have ANY chance to make it with three games to go? That Seattle will be playing meaningful games in the second half of December after the way they started the season is a great testament to the job Pete Carroll, Tom Cable, and John Schneider have done. Monday's game wasn't a masterpiece, but regardless, the future looks bright.