In week 6 against The Chicago Bears, The Beast Mode Back Field led by Marshawn Lynch was unleashed. "You could feel him playing," Carroll said. So could we. Enough said.
Not enough has been said, however, about the way the offensive line is beginning to gel, and how instrumental their sound performance was in executing a well rounded running game against Chicago. This unit's decision to end a season long media silence last week before the game resonated with me. After a tumultuous off season highlighted by both the jubilant hiring of Alex Gibbs and his early retirement combined with a constantly changing rotation in the preseason many wondered can the O-Line gel by week 1? Week 10? At 2-2 going into the bye week, the offensive line had the opportunity to gel at the most opportune time. With Okung finally healthy, flashing his potential, and Andrews proving to be another example of excellent front office scouting by this organization, they started to gel in practice. So when Chris Spencer, the leader of an O-line hoped to be on the verge of gellin', breaks the media silence to say they are gellin', I paid attention. I also paid attention to the continuity displayed in helping unleash TBMBF. The most consistent performance by our O-line of the year allowed for the Seahawks to display a glimpse of the answer to another major question mark through the bye week: what is our identity on offense.
The offense kept it simple, staying with the newly found personnel package to execute an offense that looked similar to the 2003-2005 USC Trojans: A power running game, scat back, both a big, physical possession receiver with a small, speedy complement and a well rounded tight end are all elements of previous successful offenses in Carroll's program. In his post game news conference, Carroll exclaimed "This is very reminiscent of the formula I have become accustomed to -- the big back hitting it hard, the flashy guy, the big receiver and the quarterback getting the ball to every guy," Carroll said. "That is what we have come in here to do. It has just taken us awhile." This is foreshadowing of our base package going forward, which would include Butler playing a USC Steve Smith type role. I still wonder, however, where Leon fits in this offense. We threw incomplete to him on third and long a couple times; I'd rather disguise his role and not advertise his presence in obvious throwing situations; Get him in space using wheel routes or power runs to the edge on first and second down to complement the physicality of lynch, just as we do with the versatility of Forsett on third down. The beast has the potential to be a three headed monster. A more dynamic running game, explosive on the edges, will ultimately open the middle of the field for Carlson, Stokely and co. This wrinkle in the scheme will add a dimension to the consolidated, post Branch trade base package on offense.
The Seahawks ability to maintain a dominant run defense on first and second down allowed Coordinator Gus Bradley to successfully attack the Bears on third down with a variety of defensive backfield blitzes from unorthodox formations, such as 3-1-7. There is an unusual flexibility built into this flourishing scheme that Carroll credits to learning during his time as defensive coordinator of the 49ers in the 1990s. In the offseason, it was clear Carroll was buying into the philosophy of if we can stop the run, we can attack against the pass. Carroll was giddy over the potential Red Bryant flashed to be dominant in this new defense as the space consuming centerpiece anchoring against the run. His hard work and solid play have allowed us to be dominant against the run with minimal run stopping personnel on the field, and aided the coaching staff's ability to feature the physicality of our secondary, putting 7 DBs on the field, as part of our aggressive attack; physicality that brought 4.5 sacks and a safety against The Bears. Furthermore, off season addition Chris Clemons' explosive play has been nothing short of impactful in the Leo position, ensuring that offenses have to game plan against solid play on both sides of the Seahawks defensive line. It's time to credit this organization for the effort put into retooling this 'Hawks defensive line; The first unit is backed by an equally solid rotation, the majority of which are new faces to this 2010 roster, such as experienced winner Raheem Brock, and potential laden Kentwan Balmer. Dominant run D and a versatile physicality are fueling this aggressive, competitive defense.
When a football team possesses a physical, well coached and explosive defense it has a special capability to take a major element of sport at any moment; momentum. At home in week 5, the Cardinals beat the defending champs in rookie Max Hall's first career start, blistering into the bye week with an unassuming, sparkplug as their new leader at QB. The Seahawks are carrying the momentum of bringing it on the road like they do at home, a present theme in our locker room before and after the bye. Carroll has fully acknowledged the importance of building, and not reminiscing, on last week's victory, grabbing the momentum within the division. The home field advantage enjoyed by this defense when playing at Qwest is well documented; Carroll has made it clear the noise, energy and enthusiasm the home crowd brings is a factor in carrying that momentum this Sunday, especially against a rookie quarterback. Hall carries high praise and belief from within the Cardinal organization, and Carroll agrees praising him as "savvy, mobile, quick and resourceful." Hall leads the Cardinals into quest with attitude, and is a tougher assignment than meets the eye. The Hawks have to get to Hall; they have to get to him early. The defense needs to be aware of his mobility and the fact that the Cardinals will try to roll the pocket to slow down the Seahawks pressure. Bradley needs to do an effective job of disguising where the pressure is going to come from, attempting to confuse a raw Cardinal offense. We have the personnel and toughness up front to try and rattle the young QB early. Furthermore, letting Thomas play with his natural instincts and more freedom, after a disciplined performance last week, in the back half of the defense will give Hall something else to think about. Another element of the Cardinals offense to think about is the unusual struggles of Tim Hightower in pass protection. Hightower had maintained a role in the offense as the receiving and power back up until this season, and his inability to be sound in pass protection is an unwelcome new struggle. As I have noted earlier in the season, the Seahawks have struggled greatly against the screen and patterns out of opposing backfields. Seattle improved last week holding Forte under 50 yards receiving, and by attacking Hightower with blitzes this week we can neutralize their check down and screen game. Utilizing a man, Lofa or Lawyer, to both blitz at Hightower to exploit his recent struggles with delayed or overload blitzes and play a spy role to neutralize the screen, is crucial in eliminating the underneath dimension of this Cardinal offense. Marcus Trufant has played at a near elite level thus far and will be relied upon to keep Fitz relatively in check to execute this type of game plan. Ultimately forcing the Cardinals into a downfield offense will force Hall's decisions, create turnovers and capture momentum.
The offense must continue what it started last week in Chicago. As Carroll noted, the Cardinals "are much more multiple. Chicago is much more of a fundamental, beat-you-up defense and they are great at it. This is a defense that will take more chances and scheme more and more looks and things like that." The cardinals are more unpredictable and more aggressive than The Bears zone scheme, led this week by a double digit sack predicting Joey Porter. Our offensive scheme needs to neutralize the aggressiveness of the cardinals through screens, disguising formations and breaking tendencies. Furthermore, motioning receivers off the coverage of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will help our offense create matchups, especially for Williams, against a small, young secondary; our offense must continue to apply pressure down the field. Dictating the Cardinals defensive rhythm and forcing their blitzing defense to backpedal into coverage is paramount in executing the power running game and getting the ball vertically down the middle and to the sidelines. Furthermore, throwing on first and second down out of run base formations that were established with Lynch last week will keep the defense off balance; Part of this unpredictability could come in the form of receptions for both Lynch and Washington. Moving far from the offensive identity shown last week would be a mistake, but some added wrinkles should be expected as Pete Carroll tries to maintain offensive momentum.
When Pete Carroll was hired as our head coach, many questioned what direction he would lead the team. As depicted by the digitally composed, larger than life images on the side of Qwest, he has directed us with energy and passion towards competing, week in and week out. This week, we see if he can connect those dots, creating not just weekly competition but the anticipation of winning, week in and week out. While he has done a stellar job turning this organization around personnel wise with 219 roster moves to this point, some have questioned, including Pete himself, his ability to manage a different game in the NFL. After the debacle that was the end of the first half against the Chargers, Carroll said "I realized that after all those years at USC, with our offenses being so dynamic; I got a little bold about our situation. We need to take care of business better and I need to do a better job and make sure we get our points when we get our opportunities. They're not always going to come around the way it used to seem like it happened…We were too bold … so I'll take note of that." The next week against the Rams, a drive that ended with a poorly executed fake field goal and included a Michael Robinson to Leon Washington Flea flicker on third and short showed he hadn't truly re-evaluated his approach. Kicking to Devin Hester with just over 2 minutes left last week again raises red flags about game management. If the Seahawks are to gain the momentum and take over the division this week, Pete Carroll has to show the ability to manage and lead this team through momentous situations; he needs to channel those larger than life images this Sunday at Qwest.