2015 Seahawks Re-Watch, Week 7: Kaeper-can’t
The Seahawks were 2-4, a record that reflected poor play but also a murderous schedule. Of the five teams remaining in the league with a perfect record, the Seahawks had lost to three of them. In each game, the lead was forfeited in the final two minutes. What had happened in 2015 was a mix of things, but mostly, the letdown was on account of incredibly high expectations, maybe to a level where only disappointment could follow. But, during an NFL season, the emotional fluctuation between Sundays was intense, and many realized expectations needed to be, at the very least, redefined. If the Seahawks were not the Seahawks of 2012-2014, then fine. Fans loved this team long before Super Bowl 47, they would love the team long after. Now, it was about racking up wins—ugly, clean, earned or pure luck, just start with one.
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Marshawn Lynch returned from injury and was back to doing Beast Mode things, with 27 rushing attempts for 122 yards and a touchdown. He rushed through the line cleanly, breaking out past linebackers and picking up extra yardage to the sidelines. Still, Lynch and his offensive line lacked chemistry, as the game’s opening touchdown required five attempts from within the five-yard line. It was a relief to witness the offense drive the length of the field. Imagine still the relief when they drove the field yet again, this time in another manner. Russell Wilson connected with Jermaine Kearse for 21 yards, Doug Baldwin for 15 yards, and used the play-action to drop a bomb to Tyler Lockett, who had scorched cornerback Tramaine Brock for the first touchdown reception of his career.
Both drives represented opposite sides of a coin that offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell had been forced by circumstance to flip. With Lynch at his best, the offense was able to use the run to set up the pass; however, Lynch—who had in week 4 broken a 61 game regular season starting streak—had been hampered by a multitude of injuries. So the unit did what it had to do. It became a traditional passing offense, and while it accomplished this effort in short bursts, it had also failed at it considerably. The mix of philosophies had created a hybrid scheme whose results were paradoxical. The offensive line couldn’t pass protect, but Russell Wilson kept hitting open guys in the third level, which begged the question: Why couldn’t they get receptions in the intermediate windows? The offensive line could run block decently on early downs, but caved in short-yardage and goal line situations, which begged the question: What good was a running offense that couldn’t sustain a drive? It was a real pick-your-poison type-of-deal, but the Hawks were devoted to shaping this clay, and Russell Wilson was willing to accept the challenge of change.
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The same could not be said for 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Under new head coach Jim Tomsula, the veteran had turned into a shell of his former self. Against a Seattle defense enjoying another stellar year, he went 13/24 for 124 yards with no rushing attempts. The once mobile Kaepernick was now a fixture in the pocket, and a standing target was a poor game plan for Michael Bennett. The leader of the defensive line blew past offensive linemen on the snap, finishing the game with 3.5 sacks. Kaepernick’s struggles gave the Seahawk’s secondary a week to work out the kinks. Cary Williams was able to go a game without living a nightmare; meanwhile, practice squad player DeShawn Shead had a terrific open field, solo tackle, the type of takedown the Legion of Boom had built its brand upon.
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The 2015 Seahawks/49ers match-ups were known letdowns long before kickoff, as it was the recalibration of a division rivalry that had developed a unique twist. Coaches Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh had been adversaries on the collegiate level as well as the professional. Carroll was head coach for the USC Trojans and Harbaugh the Stanford Cardinals. Both had had success with young quarterbacks, and the last three Super Bowls had been represented by either team. Also, cornerback Richard Sherman, resident superstar for the Seahawks, had been a vocal critic of Jim Harbaugh, whom he believed spoke negatively about him prior to the NFL draft.
This stew of factors led to slugs fests that were particularly violent and brutal and entertaining, with the Seahawks being the frequent victor—no win being more defining than the 2013 NFC Championship Game. The aforementioned Sherman, a self-proclaimed nemesis of 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree, had lined up man-to-man with Crabtree as the 49ers drove for the victory. In the Seahawk’s end zone, Sherman tipped—to the waiting hands of Malcolm Smith—what was actually a tremendous pass from Kaepernick to Crabtree, effectively sending the Seahawks to the 2013 Super Bowl. On that evening, many felt the Hawks/49ers rivalry would be the defining match-up for an era, a la Patriots/Colts or Ravens/Steelers. It was not to be. 49ers general manager Trent Baalke had chosen to fire the team’s best coach since George Seifert, and in the wake of Harbaugh’s absence, several 49ers had fled the franchise, including the retirements of All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis, rookie sensation Chris Borland, offensive lineman Anthony Davis and defensive end Justin Smith. Players lost in free agency were Frank Gore, Michael Crabtree, Mike Iupati and Chris Culliver.
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Thus far, the season was one of immense ups and downs, a roller coaster of success, failure, elation, despair; whereas, week 7 against the 49ers felt like a football game, a typical football game where two teams ran plays as scripted based on the game plan. The final score was 20-3. For the erratic Seahawks, a stabilizing of the ship was a welcome sight, but the offense had turned in another slow fourth quarter and once again failed to score over 20 points. Regardless, the victory put the Hawks in better position for a second half stretch into the postseason—something with which the team was familiar. In 2014, the Hawks had started the season at 3-3, but managed to batten down the hatches in time to go 12-4.
Week 8 will post next Tuesday, April 26th. Until then, why not get an early analysis on the 2016 schedule?
Previous posts in the Re-watch Series: