Harvin Gives Seattle A Lethal Big-Play Threat
By Corbin Smith
Fans and players alike had been waiting for this day for nearly seven months. Now that Percy Harvin has finally seen the field as a member of the Seattle Seahawks, it's safe to say that the best team in the NFC will be even tougher to stop with his added presence on offense and special teams.
Harvin's stat line from the 41-20 win over the Vikings won't wow anyone. He played sparingly on offense, even after Jermaine Kearse suffered a concussion in the second quarter and was ruled out for the remainder of the game. He touched the football twice and only caught one pass for 17 yards, so his effectiveness would seem to be minimal based on a box score.
However, a box score can't quantify how much having Harvin on the field helped other receivers. A box score can't account for the authentic elecricity he created during a 58-yard kick return that nearly ended up being a touchdown. And sometimes, a box score simply doesn't match what the human eye see. Sunday showed just a glimpse of what Harvin can do with a football in his hands, but it also served as a warning to the rest of the league now that Seattle has added one of the best pure athletes in the entire sport to an already loaded offense. He looked explosive and most importantly, he looked healthy, which adds another dimension to the offense as Seattle prepares for a deep playoff run.
Prior to this point, the Seahawks have found ways to win games the last few seasons despite lacking a true big-play threat at receiver, which serves as the main reason why the team traded three draft choices to land Harvin this past March. While only seeing a small percentage of snaps against the Vikings, Harvin's presence alone diversified the offense. When he took the field, Minnesota had to account for him by shading safeties his direction to prevent a big play, and that helped open up room for other receivers like Doug Baldwin, who brought in a 44 yard catch in the first quarter after Harvin drew a double team. On numerous other occasions, the Vikings had to make adjustments in coverage to keep him in check and consequently left other receivers wide open.
On Seattle's next drive, Russell Wilson took a shot downfield to a streaking Harvin and drew a flag for pass interference, but a holding call on Russell Okung offset the penalty. The play ended up leading to a replay of down, but it reaffirmed how difficult it can be for opponents to cover the speedy receiver in open space. After the Vikings quickly drove for a scoring drive to tie the game at ten a piece, he flashed his receiving briliance by making a spectacular one-handed catch for a 17 yard gain to prolong an eventual scoring drive capped off by Marshawn Lynch's second scoring run to retake the lead.
Wilson didn't target Harvin on offense from that point on, but he made his greatest impact after Head Coach Pete Carroll opted to allow him to return kicks. Throughout the past few weeks, Carroll made it very clear he had no intention of using Harvin on special teams his first game back, but he couldn't resist the temptation after Kearse got hurt. Minnesota had hung around and tacked on a field goal with less than a minute remaining in the first half to cut the deficit to 17-13, and Seattle probably would've been content to sit on the football with a four point lead on a normal kick return.
Instead, Harvin showed why he's viewed as a true game changer, quickly dashing through the heart of Minnesota's kick coverage and racing past midfield to put the Seahawks in prime position to put more points on the board. Five plays later, Wilson capitalized threw a picture-perfect pass in the back right corner of the end zone to Baldwin to give Seattle a 24-13 lead at the break. Under normal circumstances, Seattle probably wouldn't have gotten any points on that drive, but Harvin's long return changed the strategy for Carroll's team.
With Harvin instantly making key contributions, an already boisterous crowd reached a new decibel level and the energy inside the stadium was tangible. Defensive tackle Clinton McDonald summed up the kick return perfectly, saying, "It was like magic watching that. That's the fastest guy I've ever seen on a football field."
It's easy to see why Seattle garnered so much attention after acquiring Harvin this spring, as the young talent presented a strong first impression to both players and fans alike. Once he gets his wheels completely back under him and gets back into game shape, he'll be a well-rested force to reckon with come playoff time.
THE BAND IS BACK TOGETHER: Those were the wise words from Okung, who returned to the starting lineup after missing eight games with a toe injury. Tackle Breno Giacomini and center Max Unger also returned to the lineup after missing time, allowing the Seahawks to roll out the entire opening day starting offensive line for the first time since Week 2 against the 49ers. The unit showed plenty of rust, including Okung's untimely holding penalty that offset a long pass interference penalty against the Vikings. But as a whole, pass protection looked much improved and Wilson had plenty of time to unload throws downfield, with his only sack on the day resulting from strong coverage by the defense.
For much of this season, issues along the offensive line have been the biggest question mark surrounding this team. If Okung and Giacomini can avoid further injury and provide stability up front, the line could transform from a major flaw into a capable unit. Growth at the guard spots will remain key, as converted defensive lineman J.R. Sweezy, former first rounder James Carpenter, and veteran Paul McQuistan will need to continue making strides in both the run and passing game. Based on Sunday's game, it looks like the line will be formidable for the home stretch.
THOU SHALT NOT PASS: It's not surprising that the Seahawks found great success forcing turnovers against the Vikings, who have been ailed by poor quarterback play and instability throughout the season. Christian Ponder played surprisingly well in the first three quarters and kept Minnesota in the game, but a few bad decisions early in the 4th quarter came back to haunt him and led to interceptions on back-to-back possessions, including a 29 yard pick-six for cornerback Walter Thurmond that extended Seattle's lead to 38-13 early in the 4th quarter.
Backup Matt Cassel continued the generosity after entering the game for Ponder in garbage time as he had a screen pass tipped and intercepted by McDaniel. In a matter of minutes, the Seahawks had forced three interceptions and added 17 points to the scoreboard, bringing the game to a merciful end for the Vikings. Cassel ended up leading a scoring drive against Seattle backups late in the contest, but the game had already been decided.
THOU SHALT NOT RUN, EITHER: Seattle also showed great discipline on run defense, holding superstar running back Adrian Peterson to 65 yards on 21 carries. Peterson torched the Seahawks for over 180 yards when the two teams met last season, but they enacted revenge on Sunday by controlling the line of scrimmage and having several tacklers meeting Peterson at the point of attack. He rarely reached the second level, and the Seahawks did a great job gang tackling when he did break through the line. After surrendering over 200 rushing yards to the Rams and Buccaneers in successive weeks, the coaching staff made tackling a priority and the team has came through with two strong bounce-back performances.
Peterson has been one of the game's best players since coming into the league out of Oklahoma, but he's been battling a hamstring injury and hasn't been able to carry the offense like he did during his MVP season a year ago. Without any help from the passing game, opponents have been able to load up the box and prevent Peterson from breaking big runs. Seattle's dominance in the trenches and fundamentally-sound tackling against the run forced Minnesota to try to stay in the game passing the football, and they simply couldn't get it done.
WHAT'S NEXT?: The Seahawks will now enjoy a much-deserved bye before reuniting next week to start preparing for the Saints on Monday Night Football. Carroll insisted that he didn't like the timing of the bye and that they wanted to keep playing, but a week off couldn't have come at a better time. For players like Harvin and injured corner Brandon Browner, having a two week grace period before returning to action will allow for continued rehabilitation, while the rest of the team has rightfully earned a chance to recover a few days.
Once players return on Monday, it will be time to place complete focus on a high-powered Saints team led by quarterback Drew Brees and tight end Jimmy Graham. Seattle currently holds a 1.5 game lead over New Orleans for the top seed in the NFC, and winning at CenturyLink next Monday would move the team much closer to earning home field advantage throughout the playoffs.