Seahawks Clip Falcons In Act Of Revenge
By Corbin Smith
After two sluggish performances against the Rams and Buccaneers, experts started to write off the Seahawks as a flawed 8-1 football team. Many considered Seattle a heavy favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl prior to the start of the season, but after several weeks of disappointing showings, critics came out in full force.
This team has major issues along the offensive line, this team can't stop the run, and this team doesn't have a good enough passing attack to be considered a legitimate title threat. Experts and football pundits alike blasted Seattle throughout the past week with such claims, and many of these criticisms seemed warranted. Despite having great depth at nearly every position and boasting one of the league's most talented rosters, the Seahawks had yet to play a complete game and were barely beating inferior opponents. Players continued to say "just wait" and that they'd put everything together eventually, but those words were quickly turning into a broken record.
Apparently, the Seahawks had heard enough. The NFC West frontrunners finally played to their potential in a 33-10 win over the Falcons yesterday, which could be bad news for the rest of the National Football League.
When the 2013 schedules came out this past summer, Seattle had to circle this date as the most important game of the season. The Falcons ended Seattle's season during the NFC Divisional round last January, and regardless of what players said earlier in the week, the Seahawks wanted to exact revenge for that playoff defeat. Even though Atlanta has greatly underachieved this season and entered the game with a 2-6 record, this was the perfect game for the Seahawks to start clicking on all cylinders and make a statement to the rest of the league.
Seattle finally played like a championship contender, racking up more than 400 yards on offense and limiting the Falcons to 64 yards rushing after surrendering more than 200 rushing yards in back-to-back contests. Here's what stood out from yesterday's win:
Road Warriors? Seattle has been plagued by poor road records in recent seasons, including a 3-5 mark on the road in 2012. Following Sunday's win in Atlanta, the Seahawks moved to 5-1 in road games this season, and they also improved to 4-1 in games starting at 10 a.m. Pacific Time. Traditionally, west coast teams have struggled to perform well in road games under those circumstances, but Pete Carroll moved many of the team's training camp practices to 10 a.m. in an effort to curb that problem. So far, the results speak for themselves, and Seattle only has two road games left on the schedule.
If Seattle manages to earn the best record in the NFC and gains home field advantage throughout the playoffs, Carroll will deserve major props for setting his team up for improved success on the road.
Nowhere to Run, Nowhere to Hide. The Seahawks dropped from 6th to 20th in run defense in a matter of two weeks thanks to ugly performances that allowed both Zac Stacy of the Rams and Mike James of the Buccaneers to rush for over 100 yards, and Carroll made shoring up fundamentals on the defensive side of the ball a major priority during practice this week. The Falcons were the perfect team for Seattle to get its mojo back, as they entered the contest ranked dead last in the league in rushing. When Atlanta signed veteran back Steven Jackson, his presence was expected to bolster a stagnant running game, but he's looked like a shell of himself since returning from injury three weeks ago.
The Seahawks set the tone from the outset, and Atlanta could never find traction on the ground. Aside from one big run by backup tailback Jacquizz Rodgers, Seattle owned the line of scrimmage and forced the Falcons to become one dimensional. Jackson finished the afternoon with a measly 11 yards on nine carries and never became a factor in the contest, leaving Matt Ryan to once again try to win games on his own as a passer. Against Seattle's vaunted secondary, that proved to be near impossible, as Ryan averaged only 4.8 yards per completion and struggled to move the chains all afternoon. With Julio Jones out for the season and Roddy White playing at well below 100%, Ryan simply doesn't have the weapons in place to win without help in the running game, and Seattle took advantage.
It's understandable why some would view stopping Atlanta's run game with skepticism based on their inability to run this entire season. The Seahawks will face a real test next weekend at home when Adrian Peterson and the Vikings come to Century Link Field. We'll have a better idea where the run defense stands after that game, but the players deserve credit for stepping up their game and it's a solid step forward.
Rotation, Rotation, Rotation! Amid Seattle's recent struggles, the offensive line has received the most criticism, and rightfully so. Russell Wilson has been under incredible duress week in and week out for most of the season, and the hits have started to take a toll on him. Last week, the Buccaneers failed to sack Wilson, but they landed several hard hits on him throughout the afternoon. Offensive line coach Tom Cable made some changes in the second half of that contest, as he started to rotate undrafted rookie Alvin Bailey into the lineup.
Yesterday, Seattle continued to rotate lineman in and out of the lineup, and the move seems to be paying dividends. Bailey did an excellent job when called upon to protect Wilson's blindside, while moving Paul McQuistan back to left guard helped ignite the rushing attack. Rookie Michael Bowie also played his best game at right tackle and made several pancake blocks to spring Marshawn Lynch for big gains on the ground. Lynch ended the day with 145 yards rushing and averaged six yards per carry, and the line deserves kudos for playing at a higher level. It was easily the best performance by Seattle's offensive line all season, and the Seahawks could have both Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini back in the starting lineup next week against the Vikings.
Sidney Who? When Sidney Rice went down with a torn ACL two weeks ago, many compared it to the Colts losing Reggie Wayne. Let's face it: Sidney Rice and Reggie Wayne shouldn't be put in the same sentence. Comparing them is like comparing Andy Dalton to Joe Montana. Rice has been a valuable veteran presence for the Seahawks since his arrival in 2011, but his actual production has never lived up to the contract the team gave him during free agency and he's been injury-prone throughout his career.
In all honesty, the Seahawks are a better football team with Jermaine Kearse playing extensively rather than having Rice on the field at this point. Kearse has come into his own in his second season out of Washington, and he's quickly becoming Wilson's favorite security blanket. In the two games since Rice went down, Kearse has caught five passes for 118 yards and two touchdowns, and he could see more looks coming his way in the future. With Percy Harvin on track to make his debut next weekend and Golden Tate continuing to become more dangerous week by week, Seattle's receiving core shouldn't miss a beat with Rice sidelined.
Explosive Plays Ruled the Day. One of the most confounding aspects of Seattle's strong start has been the lack of big plays on offense. Aside from an occasional bomb from Wilson, the Seahawks have had a difficult time generating big plays, but that changed in Atlanta. With a little over six minutes left in the first half, Seattle only led 6-3 despite dominating the Falcons on both sides of the ball. The tide of the game changed dramatically over the next few minutes, as the Seahawks used three consecutive explosive plays to break the contest open.
Lynch opened the frenzy with a jarring 37 yard run through the teeth of Atlanta's defense, moving the Seahawks past midfield. Offensive coordinator Darell Bevell decided to reach into his bag of tricks and called for a flea flicker on the next play, and Seattle ran it to perfection. After Lynch took the handoff, he "shot-putted" the ball back to Wilson, who turned and fired a 43 yard strike to Kearse in the end zone to extend the lead to 13-3. After a quick three-and-out by the Falcons, Tate took a screen pass and darted for a 46 yard gain down the sideline, giving Seattle 126 yards on the previous three plays.
The Seahawks only managed to get a field goal out of that drive, but Wilson led a perfectly executed two minute drill to tack another touchdown on the board in the closing seconds of the first half. With only eight seconds left on the clock, Wilson threw a short fade route to Tate at the back corner of the end zone, and he made a miraculous one-handed grab to give Seattle a 23-3 halftime lead that they would never relinquish.