2015 Seahawks Re-Watch, Week 15: Wilson Makes History
Once 2-4, the Seattle Seahawks had been on a streak of improving play and with said improvement came an improved record. At 8-5, the team was one victory away from a wildcard playoff spot. Given the Hawk’s recent playoff successes, getting to the playoffs might be all that was needed to steal the hopes and dreams of teams who had had far superior regular seasons. In the Hawk’s way was the Cleveland Browns, a spunky opponent whose near permanent uncertainty at the quarterback position had led to over a decade of QB flip-flopping. This year’s soap opera was between veteran journeyman Josh McCown and sophomore media-darling Johnny Manziel. Neither had played well enough to bank wins, and for many, the Hawks dispatching the Browns was simply a matter of formality.
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Brown’s head coach Mike Pettine had decided to start Manziel since McCown was injured. A week prior, Manziel had had a solid game against the 49ers—21 for 30 for 270 yards and a touchdown—and many hypothesized that another big game might signal a coming-of-age for the Heisman Trophy winner. Manziel paid off on his potential, at least at first. Manziel marched his offense down the field on the opening drive, to the tune of six completions on eight attempts for sixty yards and a touchdown. But that would be the only payoff Manziel—who was famous for his money hand sign—made to the Browns on this Sunday, finishing the game 19/32 for 161 yards with a late interception.
Holding Manziel to one hundred yards for the remaining three and a half quarters involved shuffling in the Legion of Boom. For one, safety Kelcie McCray’s solid pass coverage, especially in relation to Kam Chancellor’s more run-oriented style, had resolved some of the issues in the secondary. For all his size and speed, Chancellor’s pass defense skills, especially when tight ends were involved, had eroded considerably. Meanwhile, the competition between DeShawn Shead and Jeremy Lane reached its short-lived conclusion, though it was hardly one worth celebrating. Rightfully, Lane won the job as second-corner and would be taking the majority of the outside snaps, but he was in no way replacing Byron Maxwell’s contributions, and may have been responsible for Manziel’s opening touchdown, which was the result of some miscommunication within the defense.
Yet, even with all these changes, some things never changed. Undoubtedly, the secondary was anchored by the Hawk’s most consistent player, Earl Thomas III. All season long Thomas had been a security blanket for the second corner position—whether it was Williams or Shead or Lane or Marcus Burley. Thomas made difficult solo tackles, chased down broken coverages and prevented touchdowns. He had a team-high four interceptions, with two of those picks happening in the end zone. So much of the defense’s aggressiveness was due to Thomas’s policing of the rear, where few could beat him. Against the Browns, the silent brilliance of Thomas once again prevented an opponent from easy points.
At the sight of Manziel handing off to Duke Johnson Jr, the secondary crashed on the runner. Sherman and McCray were the closest, with Burley hurrying from his nickel position. The issue was the defensive line had lost its battle in the trenches, cast aside as if an invisible broom had slid them across the line of scrimmage. Offensive linemen Mitchell Schwartz and Austin Pasztor were charging up field to take out Bobby Wagner and KJ Wright. Both Sherman and McCray stayed outside of Wright—to contain, sure, but perhaps also hoping Wright would handle Johnson himself. Johnson read the overprotected outside and cut inside. Sherman ran into Wright while McCray slipped. Minus one Earl Thomas, Johnson had the entire defense at his back. Thomas chose the right angle to negate Johnson’s forward progress but also denied Johnson a clean opportunity at a stiff-arm or the ability to change direction. Johnson conceded, running out of bounds.
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Russell Wilson added another three touchdown passes. Having gone five games with 3+ TD passes in each, and having thrown zero interceptions during the span, Wilson had made a claim no other professional quarterback could make. His hot streak was now not only season transforming, it was NFL history.
The deciding touchdown was taken out of the shotgun and thrown downfield to Tyler Lockett. Lockett had crossed the formation and, at the snap, was being chased by linebacker Tank Carder, who had been obstructed by Jermaine Kearse. Once Kearse was free, he cut inside, taking cornerback Trey Caldwell and safety Tashaun Gipson with him. Lockett simply jetted down the sidelines, and by the time Caldwell had recovered, Lockett had located the ball and crossed into the end zone. Caldwell did lasso Lockett’s right arm, but all it accomplished was making the catch that much more spectacular.
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With a final score of 30-13, it was certainly boom times, but there were some concerning developments. For one, the team had been hit by the injury bug. Kelcie McCray was starting in place of Kam Chancellor, who had a pelvis injury. Tight end Jimmy Graham was lost for the season and Luke Willson, 2nd on the depth chart, was dealing with nagging injuries. The worst was at tailback, where Marshawn Lynch was out rehabbing from an abdominal surgery, and Thomas Rawls was lost for the year with a broken ankle. What remained was a hodge-podge of players fighting to fill the vacancy, including Derrick Coleman, Bryce Brown and former second-round pick Christine Michael. As these three struggled, Fred Jackson—used mostly in third-down situations—saw an increased role, but age and mileage limited his effectiveness.
With two games left in the regular season, the Hawk’s still had reason to win. While a wildcard playoff spot was a lofty accomplishment, the five-seed would face the victor of the lowly NFC East, whereas the sixth would likely face the NFC North champion, putting the Hawks in a rematch against either the Green Bay Packers or the Minnesota Vikings.
Week 16 will post next Tuesday, June 14th. Thanks for reading!
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Previous posts in the Re-watch Series:
Week 1, The Rams…Again | Week 2, The Pack Attack | Week 3, The Good News Bears? | Week 4, Kam’s Big Comeback | Week 5, The Cincinnati Heartbreaker | Week 6, Lockette’s Great Grab | Week 7, Karper-can’t | Week 8, Sherman Shines | Week 10, The Tales of Two Halves | Week 11, My Name is Thomas Rawls. | Week 12, The Youth Movement | Week 13, A Complete Win | Week 14, Baldwin Blows Up