The Seahawks went into the Superdome last Sunday looking to take advantage of the opportunity, hoping to outplay the defending champions; the 34-19 defeat against the New Orleans Saints was another performance that featured inconsistent play by the defense and missed opportunities by the offense, two common themes for both units this season. The Seahawks played nowhere near the "flawless" football needed to win this game; they looked like a .500 team. At a point in the season where some teams would go back to the drawing board and merely hope to figure things out, Coach Pete Carroll and the Seahawks are looking to "rally for a big finish," building on the confidence that grew Sunday knowing the team was able to play a poor game against one of the best and still compete "all the way through." The Seahawks lost a meaningful battle last, but the team is in position to win the war; they lead the NFC West by one game, looking to learn from their mistakes against the Saints and prove the team can win the NFC west this year, their way.
Drew Brees came off the bye week with one of his most Breeseque performances of the season; his unique footwork and precision throwing the football was too much for the Seahawks secondary. The Saints held onto the ball, won the third down battle and stopped the Seahawks from getting opportunities, a formula that created five straight touchdown drives. Additionally, the Seahawks defense aided the Saints' offensive march. Defenders uncharacteristically slid off offensive players—Coach Carroll stated after the game "poor tackling can simply not be a factor"-- and continued its trend of committing penalties in unison with successful third down stops; the roughing the passer call on Raheem Brock with 1:34 to go in the first half, on a successful third down stop, was an incredibly untimely exchange. The Seahawks had a golden opportunity to get the ball back and were highly confident, as Carroll noted after the game, they could score to go down one point at halftime; instead, Brees seized the opportunity created by the penalty to put his team up 14, 11 at half. The Seahawks gave too many second chances even as the "buy in mentality" existed the whole 60 minutes. Coach Carroll knows the chance they blew away; "We had a chance to be active and involved in this game. It's a frustrating loss because it was such a good opportunity and we felt like we had a shot."
A big gain
Perhaps the largest reason the Seahawks were able to stay competitive against the Saints was the production of Matt Hasselbeck and the Seahawks pass protection; The Seahawks Offensive Line has allowed two sacks in the past three games and gave Hasselbeck the opportunity to seize control of his team's offense on Sunday; after his second consecutive 300 passing yard, zero interception, 100+ quarterback rating performance, he has the keys. In the post game press conference, Hasselbeck noted the offense "felt a lot better" and the presence of Brandon Stokely, an unnoticed and savvy early season signing by GM John Schneider, was huge; he caught all six of the passes thrown his way, four resulting in first downs. Coach Carroll noted he is an "unusually gifted guy and has familiarity with Offensive Coordinator Jeremy Bates' system from Denver" that has allowed him to contribute despite not practicing at all last week. Hasselbeck is optimistic as he takes the unique perspective of looking at the first 10 games of the season as a training camp; "we'll get rhythm where we know our personnel, what were good at, running it the way the coaches envision it and hopefully play our best football late in the year when we need to." When healthy, Mike Williams, Ben Obomanu and Stokely are proving to be an assumingly dangerous trio, a group that Hasselbeck trusts. The active effort Hasselbeck and Carroll have made to gain a better understanding of how the two can work together to help the team as a whole is showing.
Three improvements that would make me thankful
Convert in the red zone: The Seahawks continued to fail in the red zone against the Saints, scoring one touchdown in three chances inside the Saints 20 yard line. Pete Carroll noted we need to "mix what we are doing," and I continue to agree; Offensive Coordinator Jeremy Bates made another questionable call on 3rd and goal at the 2 yard line in the middle of the first quarter. Knowing the 6'5 Williams was absent from the game, Bates called a rollout to the right where Hasselbeck attempted to squeeze a lofted pass into the back right corner of the end zone to 5'9 Deon Butler, a play that is designed for the 6'5 Williams, a much more favorable target for Hasselbeck to attempt the tough throw. Each week Bates makes at least one goal line play call that shoots momentum in the foot; if the Seahawks are to start scoring touchdowns, Bates needs to use his personnel more effectively near the goal line.
More touches for Justin Forsett: Pete Carroll had the following to say about Forsett this week: "He's been rock solid every day. In the game he is tough as hell. He is great with the ball. He does everything in pass protection. This is the guy we are counting on." He has touched the ball approximately 12 times per game in the past 6 games; that is not enough for a player that has such tremendous praise from both coaches and teammates. I've always liked him more than Marshawn Lynch, even when they played together at Cal, who was pulled last week after 2 fumbles and numerous dropped passes. Coach Carroll noted that the offense has "had a big emphasis on throwing the past 2 weeks. It livened our attack and we didn't need to pay as much attention to our running game. But we still want to create the balance." Forsett deserves the opportunity to be the main back in this offense, reducing lynch to a complementary role where he can be used both to pound the defense in passing situations and as the power back in short yardage; give Forsett 22 touches next week and I'll give thanks.
A run stuffing package: Undrafted rookie Chris Ivory abused the Seahawks Sunday, bouncing off defenders like a bowling ball. Coach Carroll admitted "the biggest concern is the defensive line," as the defense continues to struggle against the run after the season ending injury to Bryant and the continued absence of Colin Cole. Additionally, Lofa Tatupu looked continually frustrated and behind the play last week, struggling to be in the right place at the right time. The Seahawks have great depth at linebacker, and I believe Will Herring and David Hawthorne need to be more involved; Herring has made big plays the past two weeks both on defense and special teams, tackling well and helping in pass defense. Hawthorne was unexpectedly successful filling in for Tatupu last season, and continued his contribution Sunday with a timely interception and sound tackling protecting the Seahawks goal line. The Seahawks Linebackers need to be much more reliable in stopping the run and taking pressure off the defensive line; Both Herring and Hawthorne deserve a chance to see the field more often due to their sound tackling, versatility and consistent contribution.
The positive, future oriented attitude the Seahawks displayed after the loss to the Saints was not what many expected. I want to circle back to Sociologist Karl Mannheim's idea of Utopia which I Introduced in my post Squished, Sideways and Searching. As I explained, Mannheim's Utopia is described as bursts of thought that present an overwhelming desire and intention for change; these intentions are active in pushing through challenges and minimizing any limitations that may hinder success. In what Hasselbeck called "one of the best team meetings he has been around," Coach Carroll looked past defeat and focused on the clear vision he sees for this team, focusing on how the growth displayed against the Saints is an encouraging sign for the team's success going forward. Pete Carroll's vision is explained as "Just being uncommon to how things are done in the NFL," Hasselbeck said. "Things are done a certain way, and that is fine, but we want to be uncommon." Uncommon is usually a scary word for NFL players, but in the case of Coach Carroll's program it holds a new meaning. Carroll's program displays additional characteristics of Utopic practices: a willingness to embrace opportunities for improvement; looking at challenges as benchmarks for success, not reasons to fail; a desire to take principals or ideas that are commonly viewed as "irrational" or illogical and create new ways of understanding and applying those same ideas. But most importantly, instead of reflexively wondering what could have been, Utopia's look actively towards the future, an idea the Seahawks are fully embracing going forward.
The brilliant, four touchdown passing performance by Drew Brees was too much for the Seahawks to handle and the 15 point defeat, the third loss by 15 or more points in the last four games, suggests this team might be grounded, under repair. After closer inspection, however, you see that this team has just been "hangin around" in the hanger tightening bolts and replacing parts; Coach Pete Carroll noted after the game, "All that said (about the loss) we have a chance to benefit from this game and take it into the last 6 games and do something with it; We're going to go hard these next 6 weeks." It may sound as though Carroll is speaking irrationally, but he believes they're headed for the runway, ready for takeoff.
I want to wish everyone a happy, safe Thanksgiving! Thank you to all that have taken the time to look at, and hopefully follow, my blog. Please check back before Sunday's game at Qwest against the Kansas City Chiefs for a week 12 preview!