Sunday, October 12, 2014
When Your Team Takes a Step Back
Because fixing a multitude of problems often requires a draft or three, or perhaps a coaching change. We don't want to hear about that.
No, I'm not advocating either action for the Seahawks. But after seeing Seattle edged out at home by a good NFC team they're probably going to see in the playoffs, I'm willing to say there are problems with the Seattle Seahawks. Small problems. Surmountable problems. But nonetheless, a multitude.
I don't think this really surprises any of us. We did win the Super Bowl. But many of us have, way in the back of our minds, the quiet nagging feeling that we won it despite. We won it despite inconsistent play-calling. We won it despite of injuries. We won it despite certain traits missing from our WR corps. We won it despite an offensive line that hasn't yet fully gelled.
Now, on one hand, if we can win a Super Bowl with all those issues, it says a lot of good things about the Seahawks. On the other hand, it leaves us riding the razors' edge. Twice this year, the Seahawks have slipped on the edge and lost to good but beatable teams. Now it's happened at home, and it's got me going back to my blog.
(Disclaimer: We're still 3-2, and have lost fairly narrowly to playoff-bound teams like our own. Put the rope away.)
It's been said lately that people are beating Seattle by using Seattle's game: smashmouth, leatherhelmet play focused on big hits, the running game, and a QB less focused on being the all and more focused on simply completing each pass that comes. This is true, but it's even more true than people say. Other teams are playing Seattle's game in a way that many have not acknowledged: they're simply not making mistakes.
This is the secret of Russell Wilson's success. He doesn't make a lot of mistakes. You're not seeing him throwing Hasselbecks into double coverage. This is the explanation for some of the passing game's struggles in Seattle: what you're actually seeing is an ordinary passing game with all the risky throws removed. Seriously, all. With most other QB's, you'd be seeing a lot more cringe-inducing Favres. Wilson's are so rare that you can remember them by the month.
Tony Romo and Philip Rivers have beaten Seattle with this philosophy. They're contenting themselves with easier throws, taking what the defense gives them, filling in the gaps with heads-up improvisation, and they're doing it for four quarters. That's a patience reserved for few quarterbacks - the ones that appear in the playoffs. As for their defenses, missed tackles are rare and coverage assignments are tight. There's a lot to be said for staying out of one's own way, because it leaves the other team free to choke on its own miscues.
Seattle's miscues are not huge. But they're adding up. A good football game is a teeter-totter of tiny mistakes, and twice this season, Seattle's end has been just low enough to leave Wilson's theatrics out in the wind by the close.
Now...I feel good about Seattle losing to the more complete performance.
And I feel good that teams must resort to physical, mistake-free football (Seattle's philosophy) to beat them.
But we're still losing. And we're losing in a very gradual manner.
Today, Luke Willson, Doug Baldwin, and Jermaine Kearse all dropped (or had interfered with) clutch catches they usually make. The receivers on Dallas' side, on the other hand, didn't drop theirs.
On 3rd and 20 with 4:46 left to play and Dallas trailing, Bruce Irvin broke free on an edge rush and then whiffed twice on the sack of Tony Romo, who flashed a Wilson scramble and then got the ball into the hands of Terrence Williams way downfield.
Early on, Byron Maxwell had his mitts all over a sure pick-six on the Seattle goal-line. Instead of triumphing, he dropped it. After last week's contest Seattle currently leads the universe in dropped picks.
Over and over, DeMarco Murray and whatever nimble Swiss-army-knife guy to whom Tony Romo was slinging the ball would sidestep a Seahawks tackle and take it for another five yards. Our guys couldn't see to get into free space.
Both teams had their injuries. Bobby Wagner on the sidelines is ugly. Seattle's cornerback depth is like the Mars rovers - you can't believe how long it's lasted, but you live every second expecting its sudden implosion. Dallas also lost key guys, but it didn't stop them like it stopped us. Hello, Marcus Burley on the outside.
Dallas' offensive line had a couple of key holding penalties at crucial moments, enough to keep the game in question. But Russell Okung had his quickly-becoming-requisite two false starts to throw on top of a false start by the backup center.
Dallas gave DeMarco Murray his touches. Seattle did not reciprocate with Marshawn Lynch. I'm not about to jump all over the playcalling, which is a series of responses to a constantly shifting and evolving animal whose results only seem to look like a philosophy and are judged by fans without context. None of you would do better. Neither would I. Personnel problems go into playcalling as well (having a backup center doesn't boost a coach's confidence in the run game). But despite that, at the end of the day, Dallas gave DeMarco Murray his touches. Seattle did not reciprocate with Marshawn Lynch.
Losses like these are built brick by frustrating brick over sixty minutes by tiny mistakes. The score is close by the end, but you can always trace the loss back to a handful of moments. There is no one that stands out. It's the amalgamation of them that kills you. This is why I rarely gripe about officiating. There are always bad calls. They go against both teams. But even in Super Bowl XL, there were numerous opportunities Seattle missed that still could have changed things.
Attrition has now struck twice this season, and the league is starting to smell blood.
Who would like to see Seattle in command of these games as Dallas was, instead of racing to make up for their own mistakes and building an offense more through broken plays than intentional ones?
I wish I could point to one thing, say "fix this", and leave you feeling like that's all it takes. Many writers are unconsciously led by that impulse. But it would be dishonest. Seattle amassed small chinks in every phase and in every unit today, kept themselves in it with gut and the Cowboys' perennial CenturyLink Field special-teams collapses, and then shattered at the end. A common story in the NFL. That sinking late-second-quarter feeling of "the mistakes are starting to pile up and we'll be vulnerable to a couple of clutch plays in the fourth quarter" is starting to become familiar. Indianapolis. Arizona. San Diego. Dallas.
Credit where credit is due. And that's just it. The victory was earned by Tony Romo, who played one of the finest games of his career today. Seattle has shown that they can only be beaten by complete performances from solid teams. But that doesn't change the fact that they have been beaten. We need to be the solid team with a complete performance. That's how we won last year. Well, no - not really. Not often enough. Too often, we were the team with Russell Wilson's legs and a lot of sprightly luck. It's starting to feel like the Mars rovers.
Complete football. It's what we need to attain. There is no substitute for it. No "Seahawks philosophy" or talented personnel pickup has ever been a substitute for it. Solid, mistake-free football.
I wish I had a handy "this is the way out of worry" solution to suggest to fans while the Seattle coaching staff ignores it. Many of you came here hoping for one. But there isn't one. Resist the temptation to think along those lines. It's rarely the case. The Seahawks simply have to go back to the tape, work on their craft, and cut down on the mistakes. There isn't much more to say. There isn't much more to do.
And when you boil it all down, that's actually a really good thing to say about your football team.