Week Six: The Fourth Quarter Shakedown.
Maybe it’s because I love the pain but I’m not giving up on the Seahawks this season. At the beginning of the year, I really thought this team was meant to participate in a rematch against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 50. They used Gronk to kill us, so we went out and got Jimmy Graham to kill them. Alas, the revenge season where the Hawks trample on everyone may not be meant to be. Regardless, I can’t help feeling that each of the Hawks 4 losses were losses where they played better than they did in the previous loss. That sounds like the least optimistic thing to say but let’s break it down.
1) The Hawks can’t run on third down, and that is why the blitz is constantly coming at Russell Wilson. The answer to this problem is obvious. You need pick plays, slants and outs for first downs in order for teams to say, “Okay, we can’t just abuse you in these situations.” However, as any Seahawks fan knows, this team has gone to the Super Bowl twice with basically no short passing game. Every time we see a slant, it’s cause for celebration, followed by every fan saying, “Why don’t we do that more often?”
Maybe in the offseason the Hawks make some savvy moves to get depth at o line or they burn their draft picks on it, but this year, they’re not a running team. Fixing this issue is difficult once a defense starts getting home with the blitz, so being proactive is the key. In my opinion, without a short passing game, and without the ability to run on third and short, you’re only option is to attack the middle of the field on plays where opponent’s show the blitz and on situations where they at least debated it.
Piece of good news #1: In yesterday’s loss, the Hawks attacked the middle of the field with Jimmy Graham, who finished the day with a 17.5 yard average on his many, many catches. In case you’re wondering, yes, that blows away anything the Seahawks offense has seen all year. These throws are going to be there for the next ten weeks, and if the Hawks keep hitting them, I think the offense will open up. If you need proof of what Graham means, consider the final score of the game………
2) The offense scored 23 points. It may not seem like a reason to pop champaign bottles but at the bar, after the Hawks offense scored twenty points, I ordered a victory glass of Beam on the rocks. This season, the offense has looked putrid at times. Really, they have. 23 points marks a lot of progress for this offense. The tough news is that my prediction that the Hawks offense needed to score 20 points have been light. They may need to score 24 points. So they need to trade a field goal for a touchdown in every remaining game–tall order, I know, but if the Hawks keep passing (instead of clock killing with the run), they should give themselves more opportunites to score as their passing game continues to mature.
3) The Hawks defense turns bad in the fourth quarter because they go into their base defense. Yesterday, in the fourth quarter, Cam Newtown caught fire, standing there in the pocket, no pressure, making easy throw after easy throw. Know who else did that? Nick Foles, Aaron Rodgers, Andy Dalton and Tom Brady (in SB 49). When the Hawks go into their base defense to protect a lead, they only send 4 pass rushers on every single play…every single play. In the NFL, you have to generate pass rush and you have to blitz to win. If you really think about it, we’ve seen a lot of fourth quarter collapses from the Hawk’s D in the past, they just didn’t end in losses. When teams go into their two minute offense to win a game, the Hawks base defense gets owned and opponents march down the field for TDs.
The Cover 3 scheme the Hawks use (although, they’re starting to get away from it), really opens up a lot of short routes, especially if you’re worried about protecting a lead and you play back. The way out of this is to blitz. Well, the good news is that the Hawks are pretty decent at it in quarters 1-3, so if they decide to start doing it in quarter 4, I don’t see any reason why the defensive regression should continue in close games. But the Hawks need to be willing to stay aggressive and understand that they can do longer kill the clock to win games–they have to play hard until the clock runs out.
So that’s what I think. Throw more short routes and attack the middle of the field. Score 24 points. Keep blitzing and playing up in the fourth quarter, especially if the Hawks are leading. The Hawks lost to the Rams by 3, the Bengals by 4, and the Panthers by 3. So you know what? They’re not getting blown out in these losses. They feel devastating because they are fourth quarter collapses, but they’re not actually devastating losses when you take a step back from it.
Oddly, the Hawks keep losing but I keep seeing them play better football. With the notable exception of the Lions game, oh my God what happened there?, I can’t help watching this team every week and saying, “You know, it does seem like they played better.” So far this season the Hawks have played the undefeated Packers, undefeated Bengals and undefeated Panthers…. And none of them are bad losses. I don’t know…… Maybe I’m crazy but could there be hope for this season after all?