Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Seahawks “get it right,” score 31 unanswered to beat Carolina

The Seahawks 31-14 home victory against the Carolina Panthers showed the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde character of this football team; the Seahawks were thrashed by the Panthers in the first half, trailing 14-3 at halftime. The Panthers attitude on offense was exemplified by the ballistic Steve Smith after his 39 yard catch and the manner by which Jonathan Stewart bowled his way through the Seattle defense, refusing to lose yards. For a little over 28 minutes, the Panthers made them look silly.

To start the second half the Seahawks offense ran nine plays in 4:14, covering 96 yards and scoring on a 1 yard Marshawn Lynch touchdown, the drive of the year; they scored 21 points in less than nine minutes to begin the second half, taking the lead for good. The first half left me wondering, if last week's performance was garbage how would Coach Carroll describe this week. Little did I know my mystification caused by the pathetic first half would only increase as the Seahawks marched to 28 unanswered points in the second half. Carroll called the change in the game "a little bit mystical, but it just happened." I can't say I know exactly what it was either, but it was something.

Getting it right: Coach Carroll delivered a brutal truth to the team during the Saturday night meeting; he believed they had not yet "arrived mentally." He acknowledged post game that it took a half, but the point at which the message set in was obvious. "The difference between the two halves was totally attitude and getting right. I'm happy it happened for our guys so they could feel what it felt like again and regain a sense of what we are doing, playing as we are capable." Of the many accounts as to what Carroll said to his team at halftime, Lofa Tatupu's version is most jarring: "Look, you guys don't want to hear it, but you're getting outmuscled. I don't know if you want to hit or not, but do something about it. If you're a man, do something about it."

Ouch. Pete Carroll was tagged as a rah, rah "players coach" after his stint in New England, but at USC he learned how to tell the harsh truth with the same honesty and passion he used to build up his players.

What exactly is the vague "getting it right" Carroll keeps speaking of?

Competing, playing with toughness and attitude, maintaining discipline, operating with a sense of urgency, responding to adversity as a unit, "hanging around," believing you can win in the fourth quarter and seizing the opportunity; The "formula." The Steelers, Saints, Colts, Patriots and Giants are arguably the five most consistent teams at executing a similar formula in recent NFL Seasons.

And now the Seahawks, obviously too a much lesser extent, excelled at executing a version of the formula, albeit for only a half. They learned what it means to win a game in the fourth quarter; the defense played a full 60 minutes, stopping the panthers 4th and goal inside the 10 yard line within the final minute. The Seahawks proved they learned something from losing to the Chiefs; they didn't want to fail to finish, again.

A healthier heartbeat: Lofa Tatupu's 29 yard interception return for a touchdown on the Seahawks third defensive play of the second half helped the defense rebound in a big way Sunday, as the unit allowed 92 yards and 0 points in the final 30 minutes.
I have been critical of Lofa recently and I stand by my criticism—my only Seahawks jersey is a Tatupu replica I bought during his rookie season—because I know the type of player he once was. Lofa showed off his football IQ Sunday—and despite injuries—he is still the captain of this defense. He intercepted the ball because he recognized the play action fake and made a "veteran" play; timing, not speed, put a much-needed score on the board for the Hawks. Defensive End Chris Clemons said after the game, "Lofa's our leader; we go as our leader goes and that's how we know how to play." Tatupu and the defense played particularly poorly for the majority of the month before the Carolina game. He only had two solo tackles Sunday, not what a defense expects in tackle numbers from its Middle Linebacker, but he made big plays defending the pass. If he is to maintain his role as an every play Linebacker, which he was unable to do as he was replaced by David Hawthorne in the 4th quarter, he needs to find a way to contribute like he did Sunday and help his unit's heart beat stronger.

Give the organization credit: Sunday's victory highlights two moves made by the organization that deserve recognition:

  1. Brandon Stokley has continued to contribute to this offense as a first down machine, moving the chains almost every time he catches the football. His impact in Sunday's win, however, cannot be fully appreciated without knowing how instrumental he was on a play by play basis. Matt Hasselbeck noted with the complexity of the offense and the absence of the Seahawks top two receivers in the second half, players were forced into roles, and formations, which they were unfamiliar with. Said Hasselbeck, "We had the help of Brandon Stokley to steady it, as he helped everyone figure out who they were and what their jobs were on each play." Last week, we realized how much of a luxury having big Mike Williams truly is. This week, I realized Stokley is the most important, and unnoticed, receiver on the roster.

  2. Tight End Cameron Morrah noted after the game, "You don't want to honor someone like Walter Jones and come out and lose." I noted pregame that Jones' honoring, a retirement of the #71 for the Seahawks, would bring the NFL's bottom ranked rushing attack under the microscope. Hasselbeck noted after the game that Coordinator Jeremy Bates explained how Jones was perhaps the most effective tackle ever at helping an offense run from a three receiver, two back formation; Bates insisted on running one play from the formation in honor of Jones and as Hasselbeck noted, "it was a six yard rush. We liked the look and we ran it again and we kept with it." It worked continually, just another part of the mystical second half on Sunday.

A big one for Bates: Offensive Coordinator Jeremy Bates called one of his best games of the season Sunday, despite losing both Mike Williams and Ben Obomanu by the end of the first half. The Seahawks made "more adjustments than any game this season" at halftime, notably using many shotgun, three receiver formations and the three receiver, two back formation, "20," mentioned above to open up space for the running game and ultimately succeed in the red zone; the Seahawks finished with a season high 161 yards rushing and went 2 for 3 in the red zone. The final touchdown drive, eight plays and 78 yards in 4:31, was the drive that was most exemplary of Bates' growth; Bates called a Michael Robinson fullback dive for 14 yards at midfield, and though I don't like the Leon Washington halfback pass that followed, a call from "22" on 1st and 10 in Carolina territory while comfortably up 10 in the 4th quarter,  I like the aggressiveness and the new involvement of Washington; a Washington screen would have been a much more appropriate call. A Justin Forsett 23 yard run and Lynch 22 yard touchdown, sprung by great "seal" blocks by Center Chris Spencer and Fullback Michael Robinson, finished off the drive strong. Worth noting is that Hasselbeck had his worst game in the past four, throwing two interceptions and finishing with a 53.3 passer rating; on a 3rd and long from the 29 yard line early in the 4th quarter Hasselbeck missed a wide open Forsett, who was lined up outside as a receiver pre snap and ran himself open on a double move that would have been a touchdown. Bates got his offense, especially the running game, rolling without a solid performance from his quarterback and showed he is gaining a better understating of how to use the personnel available to this offense.

Five thoughts to carry forward:

  1. The secondary is proving to be one of the weakest links on this team, as Kelly Jennings had another poor day in coverage and Marcus Trufant is not attacking receivers; Trufant let Steve Smith break completely clean off the line of scrimmage on a season long 39 yard catch. The Seahawks need more physicality at Cornerback; Kennard Cox, a special teams leader, deserves to see the field on defense and rookie Walter Thurmond has shown promise.

  2. At least once a game, and multiple times in the Oakland game, Hasselbeck attempts a 20 to 30 yard sideline fade route that Golden Tate usually catches out of bounds; Get this play right or get it out of the playbook. That said, Tate's outstanding effort near the goal line on the first drive of the second half was shows why we drafted him; get him the ball quickly, in the middle of the field, and let him make plays.
  3. Can Colin Cole get healthy for week 14 at San Francisco? The Seahawks continued to tackle poorly, especially behind the line of scrimmage. To be a playoff team the Seahawks need continue working on the basics defending the run; maintaining gap discipline and wrapping up defenders. They also need their muscle in the middle of the defense.

  4. In the absence of John Carlson, is it possible Cameron Morrah earned more targets going forward with his unexpected, team leading three catches for 69 yards? He is very athletic for his size at 6'3 and 250 pounds. He showed strong hands and playmaking ability in multiple dimensions of the passing game; two weeks in a row he has made a big play with the ball in his hands. He can be an asset over the middle of the field against a safety or on screens versus a corner.
  5. The Seahawks don't care about the division standings; says Hasselbeck, "We're not focusing on the playoffs. Were focusing on improving, finishing strong." This weekend's matchup's, however, are bound to draw some comparisons. The Seahawks go to San Francisco, where the St. Louis Rams lost by three points in Overtime. The Rams travel to New Orleans, where the Seahawks competed and hung tough for a full 60 minutes in a not so lopsided 15 point loss. Comparing the performances this weekend will be inevitable; Carroll and this team should continue to focus on controlling their own game.
    Mindful preparation: If the Seahawks are to build on the victory against the Panthers they need to be mindful of their situation. Coach Carroll needs to bring his team's attention to the present moment, focusing on the game plan for how to beat the 49ers. The key for Carroll, however, is to make sure his players aren't focused on the future, but are mindful the division will be won by finishing strong, every day, for the next 26 days.

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