The Seahawks hit 50 for the second week in a row and sent a message to the rest of the NFC. This team means business.
This was a crucial win. Pete Carroll needed his players to prove there wouldn’t be any hangover from a blowout win against Arizona. Some of the hand-wringing over the road-record is put to bed now that Seattle finishes 3-5. More importantly, it sets up two huge home games to close out the regular season.
Today was all about making sure next week’s game against San Francisco had real meaning. The national spotlight will be on the NFC West in week 16. People around the country will be waiting to see San Francisco @ Seattle. And the Seahawks needed to make sure they had everything to play for going into that game.
Back to today’s game…
Russell Wilson continues to be a big-time playmaker, scoring four touchdowns today. He could’ve had more, missing on a couple of end-zone throws (particularly the one to Michael Robinson). The flea-flicker play to Golden Tate also had scoring potential, but was a little under-thrown forcing Tate to stop and wait for the ball. But hey, we’re nitpicking here. The guy is playing at a phenomenal level.
Chris Clemons had 2.5 sacks to reach double figures for the third straight year. People seem to have been planning for life after Clemons ever since he arrived in Seattle. The guy earned his new contract and remains one of the best pass rushers in the league. Put a legit pass-rushing three-technique next to this guy and he’ll be even more productive. He clearly has a few more years left in the tank.
How many times did you hear Mario Williams’ name called today? There were a couple of 1vs1 moments where Breno Giacomini held his own against one of the truly elite pass rushers in the league. He’s not flawless. He’s had penalties this year. Yet Breno has done a good job this year on the whole. On the other side, Russell Okung has developed into one of the best left tackle’s in the NFL. Certainly offensive tackle is not a priority for this team in the off-season.
The two young cornerbacks – Jeremy Lane and Byron Maxwell – both had good games. Whether they can keep it up against a better passing offense, I guess we’ll find out next week. It’s a shame that Walter Thurmond can’t get away from the injury bug. If he’s suffered a hamstring injury as some have speculated, don’t expect to see Thurmond in the final two weeks of the season.
There was a concerning issue that reared its ugly head again and it’s a pretty big one. The Seahawks’ defensive scheme can show some pretty soft coverage looks. The team focuses a lot on the four-man rush, allowing the linebackers to sit and make plays. Pete Carroll wants turnovers. The best way to create turnovers is to bring it with four. However, we saw again today that this defensive line just isn’t good enough to get the job done on early downs.
The end result is often an opposing quarterback working from a clean pocket, finding guys underneath and on crossing routes. At 31-7 the game was essentially over, yet the Bills were able to exploit the soft zone and a lack of pressure to score a quick 10 points. At half time, suddenly things were competitive again. Second half adjustments were made to show more eight-man fronts in an attempt to confuse Ryan Fitzpatrick. I noticed K.J. Wright blitzing on one call, something he’s not asked to do much. The changes worked, but the switch to different looks and blitzes takes away from what appears to be the long-term vision for the defense.
At the moment there’s just too much reliance on Clemons in the base defense. He’s the only guy who threatens, making it easy to key-in to him on early downs. Alan Branch doesn’t create penetration. Brandon Mebane isn’t fairing much better. And Red Bryant’s role doesn’t ask him to do much pass-rushing (before any questions that role, remember how integral it is to the 4-3 under to have a five-tech with size).
I keep coming back to the argument that says upgrading the three-technique position is the teams greatest need. The scheme puts the three and the LEO in 1vs1 match-ups. That’s the benefit of Bryant – his size ensures you don’t get gashed on the left side of the line for run calls. It’s why K.J. Wright’s role is so important at the SAM to help set the edge. Everything is set up for pressure on the right side.
And it isn’t happening.
Put a three-technique on the line who can collapse the pocket and suddenly this defense clicks in a base look. The left tackle becomes wary of inside pressure and won’t be able to set so easily against Clemons. It’ll help Brandon Mebane become more of a force because the center might have to help out the guard against a dangerous three-tech. This isn’t so much a need in Seattle, as integral for this defense to max-out its potential.
There are prospects in the 2013 draft class who can fill the role but they have a good shot to go in the top-15/20 picks (Sheldon Richardson, Star Lotulelei, Sylvester Williams). I’ve made this suggestion before, but 29-year-old Randy Starks is a free-agent in Miami. I’m not sure how easy it’ll be for the Dolphins to keep him next season and the franchise tag seems unlikely. If he hits the market, he would be ideal for the Seahawks. He’d maintain the quality of run-support Branch provides, but he’s also a much greater penetrative threat. For what it’s worth I’d look into keeping Branch too if the finances allow it. He’s never been a three-technique. He’s 335lbs. It’s not his fault he plays like a nose tackle at the three. Yet even if he’s replaced by a guy like Starks, he’d be a good rotational piece and would provide a key back-up for Bryant at the five.
If the Seahawks can address this need going into the draft next April, they can concentrate on other areas in the first and second round (such as much needed depth at receiver). Nevertheless, this is a debate to be continued at a later date. For now, bring on the 49ers. And if this team finished 11-5, nobody is going to want to meet the Seahawks in the playoffs.