Seahawks Stymie Manning, Giants
As he slowly meandered towards the sidelines late in the fourth quarter, Giants quarterback Eli Manning shook his head in frustration and stared off into the distance. Seahawks safety Earl Thomas had just intercepted Manning off of a deflection by corner Richard Sherman, giving Seattle five picks as a team and making a shutout close to inevitable. Manning strode past his teammates and head coach Tom Coughlin with his shoulders slumped, clearly feeling defeated after being tortured and forced into bad throws by a vicious pass rush all afternoon. Manning headed towards the bench and prepared to put his helmet onto a helmet rack, but the transfer ended up being picked off by Seahawks equipment manager Erik Kennedy.
Okay, that last part didn't happen. But it most certainly could have thanks to a smothering Seattle defense making yesterday a living nightmare for Manning and his fellow New York Giants. The Seahawks made life miserable for the veteran quarterback and rolled to a 23-0 victory over the Giants to move one step closer to clinching an NFC West division title and earning home field advantage for the playoffs. At 12-2, Seattle can finally clinch the NFC West and obtain the top seed in the NFC with a win over the Arizona Cardinals next weekend.
The shutout defeat marked the first time in nearly 20 years that the Giants were held scoreless at home, an impressive feat that hadn't happened since 1995. Sherman and Byron Maxwell both made two interceptions a piece and helped Seattle's defense prevent New York from running a play in Seahawk territory well into the fourth quarter. The defense dominated from the outset, as defensive linemen Red Bryant and Brandon Mebane hit Manning on the first play of the game and the front line consistently brought immediate pressure to disrupt the pocket. Along with all the picks, Seattle also sacked Manning four times, with Bobby Wagner, Michael Bennett, and Jordan Hill all bringing down the quarterback for a loss. In total, the Giants amassed only 181 total yards on the afternoon, and the only time they seriously threatened to score ended with the interception by Thomas.
On an afternoon where the offense struggled at times, the defense held serve and showed once again why it's the best unit in the National Football League. Manning's turnover issues partially stemmed from New York's inability to run the football. Coughlin's team stayed patient with the run game early, but Andre Brown and Peyton Hillis couldn't get anything going behind one of the league's most underwhelming offensive lines. Brown finished with a meager stat line of 11 carries for 17 yards, while Hillis only had three attempts the entire game for eight measly yards.
After falling behind early, offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride had no choice but to abandon the run game. A poor performance on the ground shouldn't come as a surprise for the Giants considering they've been near the bottom of the league all season in rushing yards per game, but yesterday's production made the rest of the season look like a success. Without any production from Brown or Hillis, Manning started forcing the football into tight coverage looking for Victor Cruz, but Seattle's secondary made him pay dearly. Sherman's two interceptions moved him back into a three-way tie for the league lead in that category, while Maxwell continued his outstanding play replacing Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond. Since becoming a starter three games ago, Maxwell has made three interceptions and done a great job as the second corner across from Sherman.
Seattle managed to put 23 points on the scoreboard, but untimely penalties and dropped passes ended up stalling several drives. Quarterback Russell Wilson didn't have his best game, but he made more than enough big plays to lead to victory, as he finished 18 for 27 passing with a touchdown and an interception while also leading the Seahawks with 50 rushing yards on eight carries. His fourth quarter touchdown pass to Doug Baldwin made him one of only three quarterbacks ever to throw 50 or more touchdowns in his first two seasons, joining an exclusive club featuring only Dan Marino and Peyton Manning. With four more passing touchdowns in the final two regular season games, he would pass Manning and move behind only Marino on the list.
Wilson's ability to run the ball offset the fact that Marshawn Lynch had another subpar game rushing, as his 47 yard performance marked his fourth straight game under the century mark. Lynch scored Seattle's first touchdown on a punishing goal line run, but he made his greatest impact Sunday as a receiver, racking up 73 yards on six receptions. His biggest reception came on the final drive of the first half when Wilson hit him out of the backfield on a screen and he rumbled 30 yards to advance deep into Giant territory. Seattle ended up tacking another field goal on that drive to take a 13-0 lead into intermission.
Very few concerns arose from this game, but getting Lynch back on track running the ball and continuing to work on limiting penalties should be major priorities for Pete Carroll's team with two regular season games left on the docket. With eight penalties yesterday, Seattle now stands alone as the most penalized team in the league with 112 infractions this year. In some cases, physical play has led to penalties, and Carroll can live with a few of those being called based on the Seahawks playing style. But yesterday, the team struggled with false starts and offside penalties, and both of those are inexcusable at the professional level. Against the Giants, the team could get away with committing such silly penalties, but it can't happen in January. Even with the best home field advantage in the game, free yardage can cost an elite team a shot at a championship.