Seattle’s biggest challenge over the next few days might be overconfidence.
They’re on a run of three demolition jobs in a row and hunting for number four. Next weekend they meet the 49ers again, facing a second opportunity to leapfrog the Arizona Cardinals for top spot in the NFC West. The Cards go to rising St. Louis.
For a while it looked like they’d have the division lead today. Kansas City had a 14-9 lead in the second half and were driving in the red zone. Alex Smith had a touchdown negated on an offensive pass interference. On the next play (third and long) he threw a hopeless interception. Arizona drove for the winning score and won 17-14. It was a huge 14-point swing. Had the Chiefs gone up 21-9, it’s hard to imagine anything but a KC victory.
The Cardinals hang on for another week at least. They might have to do it without Antonio Cromartie (Achilles). They will have to do it without Andre Ellington (IR).
Enough about what might happen, let’s talk about what did happen today.
Seattle gave up just 139 yards. The lowest number in Chip Kelly’s entire coaching career. Kelly’s previous lowest tally in Philadelphia was 200 yards exactly. This was Kelly’s Eagles’ worst offensive performance by 61 yards.
If anyone doubted whether this defense was back in the groove because they only faced Drew Stanton and Colin Kaepernick, there’s no need to worry. This was a systematic destruction of one of the league’s most explosive offenses. On average they’ve given up 169 yards a game in the last three weeks. The defeat in Kansas City was almost worth having to provoke this kind of rabid response.
The Seahawks dominated time of possession 41:56 to 18:04. They completely shut down LeSean McCoy and made a fearsome group of receivers totally anonymous. The Eagles, with all their wrinkles and ideas, had no answer. It was a total thrashing.
If there is a regret it’s that a near pick-six by Russell Wilson almost gave Philly a chance to make an unlikely comeback. Malcolm Jenkins dropped a gilt-edged opportunity to make it 24-21 and game-on with Seattle coasting in the fourth quarter. The offense left points on the board for the third game in a row. For the third game in a row, the defense made sure it wasn’t costly.
Aside from the near-pick Wilson played very well again. He improvised, he was creative. He ran effectively for one score and added two more in the air to Marshawn Lynch and Doug Baldwin. He’s playing winning football. That’s all that matters right now.
Pass-protection was at times exceptional against a prolific pass rush. Justin Britt was the only weak link. Yes, he was coming up against one of the NFL’s sack leaders in Connor Barwin. Yet too often he didn’t even disrupt his rush. People say he’s Breno Giacomini because he run blocks well and struggles against the pass. I’d recommend those people go watch Giacomini vs Mario Williams in 2012 and some of the other 1v1 battles he handled with supreme competence. Britt deserves patience as a rookie — but he’ll need to show improvement in 2015.
The receivers appeared to struggle a bit early on (Fox shows replays from the QB perspective on and off so you can get an idea who’s open) but turned up after a slow start. Baldwin had five catches on seven targets for 97 yards and a score. Jermaine Kearse had an eye-catching diving grab. Rookies Paul Richardson and Kevin Norwood both contributed. Overall Wilson spread the ball around, completing passes to ten different targets. Even so, this was another game where you were left wondering how good the offense would be with a top-tier possession receiver with size.
It was interesting to see Christine Michael (6/32) get more carries than Robert Turbin (4/7).
The pass rush is back in business and it’s mostly down to Michael Bennett. He was a revelation today. On Jordan Hill’s sack he was the one dragging blockers into the pocket to force Mark Sanchez off the spot. On multiple other plays he exploded into the backfield winning countless 1v1 match-ups. He recorded a sack himself, two tackles for a loss and a QB hit. Right now he’s playing at a level even beyond anything we saw last year. A note for Hill too — he’s really stepped up recently and is starting to show serious potential.
The secondary is healthier and potent. Byron Maxwell played well enough today to think he could be a big time free agent in the off-season. Technically brilliant, always in position. He had multiple key pass break-ups and had a sensational game. After Bennett he was possibly Seattle’s best player on defense.
So onto another meeting with the Niners, who are 7-6 after losing to Oakland today. Nobody should underestimate this team even if they are slumping out of contention. If they’re losing a few minds at the moment, nothing will re-focus San Francisco more than a trip to Seattle.
The Seahawks have to be ready to make it four crucial wins in a row.