Note: I haven’t been commenting much on the Seattle Seahawks so far this season. With the year ending injuries to key defensive stars Cliff Avril, Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor, plus the problems with the offensive line and the running game, I have been, more or less, in “wait and see” mode as regards this […]Read the Rest →
Hello Hawks fans, and welcome to my last Seattle Seahawks game preview for the 2013-2014 NFL season. It has been a blast writing and sharing these reports with you and I would continue to do so but for one inconvenient truth—with the Super Bowl this Sunday we will have run out of Seahawks games for this year. Fortunately for us “twelves” this season ending game is as big as it gets. Like many of you, I have been pinching myself in disbelief ever since our hometown heroes vanquished those pesky 49ers in the NFC Championship game at “The Clink” a couple of weeks back. This is understandable for long time Seahawks fans, for we have been subject to a lot of false hope. The 2005 Seattle Super Bowl team notwithstanding, the dreams of Seahawks fans have nearly always met with disappointment. In the end even that great 2005 team, in that game against the Steelers, went down in a blaze of questionable calls by the officials leaving loyal Hawks fans awash in frustration. After nearly 30 years our team had finally made it to the Big Game, only to have THAT happen. As fans the old mantra, “wait ‘till next year,” was our only solace, but as so often happens in sports that “next year” turns into “years” and then, in many cases, into decades.
In the Seahawks case their 2005 window of greatness closed rapidly. Due to salary cap issues they lost some of their key players. They lost others due to injuries and the inevitable march of time. Unlike other sports, due to its savageness, the average football player only has a short period of peak performance, maybe 3 or 4 years. If a team is not constantly being replenished with elite talent the descent into mediocrity or worse can be rapid. So went our Seahawks, who by 2009 had suffered consecutive losing seasons. Another trip to the Super Bowl seemed a long way off.
Though most of us were unaware of it at the time, with the arrival of head coach Pete Carroll four years ago, things for the Hawks started to change for the better. Marshawn Lynch arrived via trade from Buffalo in the middle of the 2010 season and brought “Beast Mode” to the Seattle running game. In 2012, with the advent of the “Legion of Boom” defensive secondary and the assent of Russell Wilson to the starting quarterback post, even the most pessimistic and jaded of us could see that something special was happening with our team. Then, when the Seahawks made it to the postseason in 2012 and came within an eyelash of defeating the Atlanta Falcons in the divisional playoff round, losing only on a last second field goal, we swallowed our disappointment and turned our attention to the coming season. After all, Wilson, Richard Sherman and the boys were young and would only get better. It looked to many of us like 2013 could be our year. For once, “wait ‘till next year,” actually seemed a hopeful statement and not a resignation.
And now here we are—“next year” has come and that anticipated 2013 season has very nearly played itself out. So far this Seahawks team has met and overcome every obstacle laid before it. They played in and won the NFL’s toughest division, the NFC West. They tied for the league’s best record with the Denver Broncos at 13-3, thus securing a first round bye and home field advantage through the NFC bracket of the playoffs. In those playoffs they defeated the potent New Orleans Saints in the divisional round and the powerful San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game, thus punching their Super Bowl ticket. Possibly we fans could now look back at this season and feel justified that we thought 2013 would be our year; but if we did, we’d be compromising. The Seahawks may have gotten to the Super Bowl at the end of this marvelous season—but they have yet to win it—and for the Seahawks, for 2013 to be their year, winning it is what they must do. That is how the players feel about it, and as “twelves” we should accept no less.
I realize this is supposed to be a Super Bowl game preview, so I apologize for the long preamble…I just had to get those things off my chest. You must understand, I have been a Seahawks fan from the very first pre-season game they ever played. I remember when they traded an 8th round draft pick to the Houston Oilers for an obscure rookie receiver named Steve Largent in 1976; and I also remember when they traded the number 2 overall draft pick in 1977 to the Dallas Cowboys in exchange for a later 1st round pick and 3 second rounders. With that second pick the Cowboys drafted all time great running back Tony Dorsett and unless you are an NFL minutia nerd you won’t remember who the Seahawks drafted with all their picks. Now, with our team in the Super Bowl, it brings back a lot of memories and emotions. So, if necessary forgive the sentiment and we’ll get down to taking apart this game.
If you have been watching ESPN and following the media for the last two weeks you know this Seahawks-Broncos Super Bowl has already been analyzed to death. If you did you would know, for instance, that for just the second time in 20 years the two number one seeds from each conference have made it to the Big Game. You also would know that this game pits the number one offensive team in football, the Broncos, against the number one defensive team in football, the Seahawks. Just saying that, however, does not do these teams justice. In the Broncos case, offensively they are historically good. Their legendary quarterback Peyton Manning this season has thrown for more yards (5.477) and for more touchdowns (55) than any quarterback ever in the history of the game. His season passer rating of 115.1 is also the best ever. Unbelievably, four Denver pass catchers, wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, slot receiver Wes Welker and tight end Julius Thomas, all have caught 10 or more touchdowns. For one team in the NFL that is ridiculous. In addition Demaryius Thomas and Decker have both gained well over 1,000 yards each on their catches and running back Knowshon Moreno has rushed for over 1,000 yards and also scored 10 touchdowns. If you paid attention all week then you know this stuff.
As for the Seahawks, while not quite to the level of the Broncos offense, their defense has also been historically great. For the first time since the 1985 Chicago Bears, the Seahawks led the league in what is considered the Triple Crown of defensive effectiveness—total yards allowed, points allowed (14.4 per game) and turnovers forced (39). They also led the league in interceptions with 28, three of which were returned for touchdowns, and in “Red Zone” effectiveness, that is preventing touchdowns when an opponent advances the ball to within their 20 yard line. (You saw that in the NFC Championship game when the 49ers had a first and 10 on the Hawks 15 yard line after Wilson fumbled on the game’s first play and the 9ers could not push it across.) Individually “Legion of Boom” cornerback Richard Sherman led the league in interceptions (8) and two of his fellow “Boomers”, safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor joined him as All Pros with Sherman and Thomas being named to the first team and Chancellor to the second team. The Seahawks also have done a great job of pressuring the quarterback all year, a different thing than sacking him, and thought by many to be more important. Hawks defensive linemen Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril have been great at making the opposing signal caller feel the heat and have to move his feet, thus affecting his throws. You saw this in both the recent 49ers game against Colin Kaepernik and the Saints game against Drew Brees. In both games the Seattle defense held these quarterbacks far below their average in terms of passing yards.
Because of the excellence of both teams, the Broncos on offense and the Seahawks on defense, don’t expect either unit to change much from what we have seen this season. Both will continue to try to do what they do best. The Broncos will try to free up their excellent receivers using what are called “rub routes”: short crossing patterns in which receivers go a couple yards up field and then cut toward the center of the field right at each other in an effort to “rub” a defender off on the oncoming offensive player. Welker, Decker and D. Thomas are masters at this and frequently one of them pops open because of it. Denver uses this with receivers crossing over the middle coming from both sides of the line of scrimmage, or will use it with receivers on one side in a bunch formation who cross in front of each other when the ball is snapped. These techniques put a great deal of pressure on a defense, particularly the linebackers, and require excellent communication between the defenders to stop it. The Broncos will also use a lot of short passes to the flat and screen passes to running backs, chiefly Knowshon Moreno, with great effectiveness. An uncannily accurate passer, Manning uses these short passes much like other teams use their running games, but the minute you become too pass conscious he will hand off to Moreno or someone else for a big gain. Stopping the Denver offense will be the toughest challenge the Seahawks have faced all season.
With all of this Denver offensive brilliance, just how will the Seahawks come out on top in this game? Pay attention now, and I will tell you. The keys are in some of what I just went over and here they are;
- The Seahawks must get pressure on Peyton Manning. If they sack him that’s great but they don’t necessarily need to do that. As head coach Pete Carroll says, “We need to move him. We need to get him off the spot so he has to move, so he has to adjust. When he’s in rhythm and solidly in the pocket—which he is a great majority of the time—then you’re really dealing with the best he has to offer.” With Manning this is hard to do because his line protects him so well and because he doesn’t hold the ball very long. Regardless, somehow the Hawks must accomplish pressure on the Bronco’s great QB.
- Defending the “rub routes”. This is what I referred to above. It is such a staple of the Denver offense that if a team fails to do it somewhat successfully then Manning just drives his team down the field for score after score. Expect the Seahawks to stop these routes through on field recognition of when it’s coming, with good communication between defenders in their underneath zone defense, and through physical play with the Denver receivers. Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner sums up the Seahawks approach to this as follows: “At the end of the day, watching film, I don’t think anyone ever hits (Broncos receivers), they just take the pick play. We’re looking, we’re very aware of the pick plays and when they show up, we’re going to hit them.” I think you can expect this even if the Seahawks get a penalty or two because of it.
- Turnovers! This has been a Seahawks defensive strength all season. They far and away led the league with a plus 20 turnover ratio while Denver gave the ball away as many times as they took it away. Seattle will need at least 2 “take-aways” in this game while not giving the ball away themselves, so Russell Wilson and the offense will need to protect the ball the Hawks defense will need to come through.
- The Seahawks need to score 28 points. It’s possible Seattle will win with less points but if they score 28 the odds go out the roof they will win. The reason, of course, is that the Seahawks defense is just too good. Thus far in the playoffs Manning and Co. have scored 24 points and 26 points respectively against San Diego Chargers and New England Patriots teams with much less stout defenses than Seattle’s. The Seahawks offense, therefore, must come to play in this Super Bowl. They need to move the ball consistently with Marshawn Lynch “Beast Mode” inspired drives that use up the clock and keep Manning off the field. Russell Wilson has said that he wants to be the best quarterback ever and win multiple Super Bowls in Seattle. That needs to start now. The Denver defense has been much better in the playoffs and it won’t be easy. Seahawks 3rd down efficiency will need to be 50 percent in this game to sustain drives and Wilson will need to “stay in the moment”, trust what he sees and use his receivers efficiently, particularly Percy Harvin, who is finally 100% healthy for this game. Getting Harvin the ball in space will give the Hawks an element they have not had all season and it would be awesome to see him break one in this game.
That about sums it up Hawks fans. Those are what I see as the keys to a Seahawks Super Bowl victory. All that said, there is one other aspect to this game I have not discussed, but it may be the most potent factor of all in the Hawks being victorious. It has nothing to do with “rub routes”, defensive or offensive schemes or blocking and tackling per se, yet may well be the senior factor determining their effectiveness. For want of a better explanation this is something I call the “magic” factor because it is kind of meta-physical in how it functions and cannot be quantified in physical terms. People who want to explain everything in mechanical X’s and O’s have a hard time understanding it, and are left to explain things as stemming from luck, kismet or fate. It doesn’t come from these things. I have observed for a long time in team sports that a factor exists that seems to make a team become something more than the sum of its parts. It is this factor that makes a team and its players seem “lucky”.
The Seahawks this season have displayed this factor repeatedly. We saw it in the NFC Championship game against the 49ers when Russell Wilson hit Jermaine Kearse for that 35 yard TD pass on a 4th and 7 play. Plays like that just don’t “happen”. Earlier in the season against the Houston Texans we saw it with Richard Sherman’s pick 6 to tie the game late in the 4th quarter leading to a Hawks victory in overtime. In throwing that pass it was as if Houston quarterback Matt Schaub was being controlled by forces he could not plumb. We saw it when Golden Tate snatched the ball out of the air on an 80 yard TD pass from Wilson that resulted in another tense Hawks victory over the Rams on the road. I have concluded through observation that this factor is a caused thing that derives from the collective élan vital of the players themselves and the coaches they work with. It derives from the camaraderie developed through mutual sacrifice and commitment to a shared goal. For whatever reason, the Seahawks under Pete Carroll seem to have an abundance of this factor.
Watch for it in tomorrow’s contest for, particularly if the game is close, it could turn on a bit of Seahawks magic. Don’t be surprised if it does.
There you “twelves” have it. Our time has come and this game tomorrow is for all the marbles. Until it is concluded I am done talking. We have waited a long time for this victory. It is strange, but appropriate, that at this moment I am thinking of something 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernik said to Russell Wilson following Seattle’s thrilling NFC Championship victory over San Francisco. Wilson was wired for sound that day and as Kaepernik was congratulating him on the win he leaned close to the Seattle quarterback and said to him, “Go and get yourself a ring.”
I think that tomorrow that is exactly what Wilson and the Seahawks will do.
Copyright © 2014
By Mark Arnold
All Rights Reserved