Week Fifteen: Playoff Bound.
The Seahawk’s offense answered the call yesterday with a rousing 30-13 romp over the Cleveland Browns, a team that intended to shock the world with their victory over the Seahawks, and outside of one drive in the first quarter, showed no ability to do so. By dispatching the Brown, the Seahawks have earned themselves a wildcard playoff spot at either the fifth or sixth seed in the NFC. Yes, you read that right. The once upon a time 2-4 Seahawks are now 9-5 and are in the playoffs no matter what. Winners of seven of their last eight, the Seahawks carry on perhaps the best late season push this team has ever given and have overcome more obstacles than any before it.
Russell Wilson to Doug Baldwin continues to develop into the most deadly passing combo in the NFC. When you think of Rosthelisberger to Antonio Brown or Eli Manning to OBJ Jr, Wilson and Baldwin are quickly climbing to that level. Adding another two touchdown passes, Wilson and Baldwin created a lead (and by proxy a subseqeuent pass rush on Manziel) that the Browns would never even sniff beating. Too frequently in the NFL, we talk about how a quarterback and a receiver need to develop a relationship, an understanding, in order for their combo to work. In some respects, this is true. In others, it’s more like, “Run your routes and catch the ball.” But in this case Wilson and Baldwin are the former. These guys don’t have to think any longer. Wilson knows where to throw it and Baldwin knows where to catch it.
Christine Michael returned to a Seahawks team in need of a tailback after the breakout season from Thomas Rawls came to a tragic conclusion. He outperformed his previous stint with the Hawks, putting up a 5.25 yard average on only 16 carries. The numbers suggest the Seahawks won’t miss Rawls much but the tape said different. Without Rawls, the Hawks were unable to run on first down. While the passing game kept the chains moving, the offense was in 2nd and long throughout the afternoon after running on first down (which is what they like to do). Rawl’s speed and agility made him a deadly first down runner but Michael will not be able to duplicate said production. Most of his better runs came on second down, after the passing game had knocked off a few yards. It would seem, with Michael, the Hawks will have a serviceable running game but be a pass first offense.
Out there, somewhere in the distance, Marshaun Lynch will return to the team for the playoffs–only time will tell if the Hawks can be a run first offense for their playoff run.
Outside of the avalanche of offsides penalties, the likes of which cannot be committed against the Panthers or Cardinals in the playoffs, the defensive line pressed on their warpath. They were crushing against the run but the average is skewed by a lone 39 run that the Browns were able to knock off. The point of run stuffing isn’t so much yards per carry, it’s to keep teams passing in second and third and long. For that end, the defensive line was successful, making it hard for the Browns to gobble up easy yards early in the series. They added a sack or two and chased Manziel backwards fifteen or twenty yards twice. This is much improved play which starts with the front four doing a better job of trapping passers in the pocket (instead of over pursuing on top and looking for the home run). Since they can trap QBs, the blitz is working now, and the Hawks are getting in hits and knockdowns on a consistent basis.
The revamped secondary had a better week. The injured Kam Chancellor was replaced by Kelcie McCray, who–in my opinion–outplayed any game that Kam has had this year. Outside of one big run, for which he had fallen over, he was entirely competent as a safety. He was always in the right position, always making the right play on the ball, making it hard for Manziel to go to the second level. I know Kam will get his job back when he is ready to go but maybe this McCray guy is someone who should stick around. As an undrafted free agent, he fits the Hawks mold, a smart guy who plays solid defense and doesn’t make mistakes. Plus, he’s a whole lot cheaper.
The new cornerback tandem saw Shead on the bench. Nursing an ankle injury, he was replaced by Lane. Lane played better than he did last week, and played better than Shead ever played, in making some good coverage reads; however, he was also atrocious. Almost all of the passing yards that Manziel got were on Lane’s side of the field. With Shead on the bench, Marcus Burley saw greater usage instead of just being the dime back. He was feisty, knocking down a pass and netting himself an INT. (I will say that he abandoned his coverage to get the INT, so he’s also a bit reckless for what the Hawks are trying to accomplish). Three weeks into this new secondary, it’s still too early to know if this group will get this sorted out. Without a doubt, they are improved, but without a doubt, they are the biggest weakness in the defense.
The Hawks return home for their final home game against the St Louis Rams. It feels unlikely that the Rams will be able to catch the Seahawks by surprise as they did in week 1 but never doubt the Rams resolve to give the Seahawks a hard time. The Rams have a way of punishing Wilson with their pass rush, and so the Hawks offense may face its biggest test since discovering its mojo five games ago (when Wilson inexplicably became the best quarterback in the NFL overnight). Embracing their role as underdogs and dream-killers, I doubt the Seahawks will have the mental flubs they had in week one and I expect a Hawks victory. The score may make the game seem like a blowout but I think it will feel much closer when its watched play for play. These division games are never to be taken lightly.
9-5. I’ll just end there.