Hawks tight end Luke Willson at work

Hawks tight end Luke Willson at work

I can’t speak for all of you “Twelves” out there, but it is now abundantly clear to me that I have seriously underestimated our 2014 Seattle Seahawks. A few weeks back in one of my blogs I pointed out that the then 6-4 Hawks were entering a torturous stretch of 6 games to close out this season, during which they would be playing the NFC West leading Arizona Cardinals twice, the always tough San Francisco 49ers twice, the NFC East leading Philadelphia Eagles and Seattle’s NFC West rival St. Louis Rams (a team that has always given the Hawks fits). Going into that gauntlet of games I hoped the Hawks could negotiate their way through with a 5-1 record and head into the playoffs as an 11-5 wild card team; or, if they were lucky, take the NFC West crown with that same 11-5 finish. For public consumption, and to put a brave face on things, that is what I said. Privately, between you and me, in hoping for that 5-1 closing record I thought I was being optimistic. More likely they would go 4-2 and end up as a 10-6 wild card, or—gasp!—out of the playoffs entirely. I mean, think about it: outside of those early season wins against Green Bay and Denver what had our team really shown us? They had losses to the Chargers, Rams, Cowboys and Chiefs and unimpressive victories over the Redskins, Panthers, Raiders and Giants. In the last game before that daunting 6 game, season ending stretch, the loss to Kansas City, they gave up 159 yards rushing to Jamaal Charles and nearly 200 yards rushing total!

Confronting these facts, how could I or any of us expect what we are now witnessing? I freely confess that I really did not. But, instead of living down to my expectations the Seahawks held a team meeting to clear the air—and then launched into a 5 game string of excellence on a par with any in recent NFL history!

Based on the results, that must have been some team meeting, for following it Seattle has won the first 5 of those final 6 games to raise their record to 11-4 while outscoring their opponents 114 to 33—a ridiculously low average of 6.5 pts surrendered per game! Across these same games they have held opposing offenses to a per game average of 193.6 yards, a performance unheard of in today’s offensively oriented NFL; and one made more incredible by how good Seattle’s opponents were. (According to one source I found, the combined winning percentage of the 5 opponents was .717, which made it the highest opponent winning percentage of any 5 game winning streak for ANY team in the history of the NFL. Now THAT is impressive!) This remarkable stretch of excellence defensively has catapulted Seattle to number one overall in the NFL in both total defense (268.6 yards per game) and scoring defense (16.5 pts per game). Should they remain number one in these categories through the season’s last week they will become the fourth team in league history to do so in consecutive seasons (Browns 1954-55, Vikings 1969-70, Bears 1985-86). It would also be the team’s third straight season in leading the league in points allowed, something not done since the Minnesota Vikings famed Purple People Eaters defense from 1969 through 1971. In short, Seattle’s defense is playing at historically great levels right now, and that has fueled the team’s recent 5-0 spurt.

Hawks defensive stalwarts...the Legion of Boom

Hawks defensive stalwarts…the Legion of Boom

At the same time, while not up to their team’s defensive standards, the Seahawks offense has been adequate and is getting better, now ranking 9th in the league in total yards. With Marshawn Lynch eclipsing 1,000 yards rushing for the 4th consecutive season and Russell Wilson leading all NFL quarterbacks in rushing (with over 800 yards), the Hawks are the number one NFL running team by a wide margin. Considering that all season Seattle has been plagued by injuries to their offensive line, the fact that they are so good at running the ball is even more impressive; and though the line is not nearly as good at pass blocking, (Wilson has been sacked nearly 40 times and has often had to run for his life) the Hawks have been steadily improving in that area as well. Over the last 5 games Wilson has completed nearly 64% of his passes for 1200 plus yards, 7 TDs and only 1 interception. With the Seattle QB throwing only 6 interceptions on the year, and the fact that Lynch and their other backs rarely fumble, the Hawks are 6th in the league (plus 9) in turnover ratio—another huge factor in their favor.

With all of this recent improvement on both sides of the ball it seems the Seahawks might have been due for a big game and a truly dominant performance; but to do it against the NFC West leading Arizona Cardinals, in their stadium, with their great defense; and in front of a national TV audience, is something more than Hawks fans could have reasonably expected. It seems with this Seahawks team, however, we should all start expecting the unexpected; because a truly dominant performance is exactly what the Hawks delivered last Sunday night in the desert against Arizona.

Russell Wilson was brilliant vs. Cards

Russell Wilson was brilliant vs. Cards

For the first two quarters of this game Seattle toyed with the Cardinals, building a 14-3 lead while running up huge advantages in yardage gained and time of possession. Seattle’s two first half touchdowns both took place in the 2nd quarter, the first being a Russell Wilson 80 yard lightning strike to tight end Luke Willson. With just over 7 minutes left in the quarter and Arizona leading 3-0, Seattle had the ball on their own 20 yard line with a 2nd down and 11 yards to go. After being sick with an upset stomach the entire first quarter, Marshawn Lynch had just entered the game for Seattle, and his presence paid immediate dividends. From the shotgun Wilson took the snap and faked a handoff to Lynch as he crossed in front of him, moving from right to left. Arizona’s entire front 7, their whole defensive line and all of their linebackers, went with the Seattle running back, thus allowing Wilson the whole right side of the field to roll towards when he pulled the ball back from Lynch’s belly. Wilson could have run for 20 or 30 yards, but there was no need to due to the happy fact that his tight end Luke Willson was running free behind the Arizona secondary with nothing but green grass in front of him. On the run, Russell Wilson flicked a perfect, arcing pass to Willson, who gathered it in at the Seattle 45 and then outran all Cardinals pursuers to the end zone. The 80 yard scoring throw is tied for the longest of Wilson’s career, is the longest of Luke Willson’s career, and gave the Hawks a lead in the game they would never surrender. A few minutes later Lynch scored a TD of his own when the Seattle back went “Beast Mode” from the Arizona 6, broke a couple of tackles, and stretched his ball arm across the goal line to give the Hawks a 14-3 lead after two quarters.

By halftime it was clear that Seattle is a much better team than Arizona. Through the game’s first two periods the Hawks had successfully applied the formula that had resulted in wins across the prior 4 games: shut down the run, force the opposing team to throw into the Legion of Boom, and crank up the pass rush. Russell Wilson and the Hawks offense had moved the ball almost at will against the vaunted Cardinals “D”. Besides the 80 yard bomb to Luke Willson, the Seattle quarterback had also broken off runs of 55 yards (his career long) and 22 yards. By then it was also obvious that Cardinals 3rd string starting quarterback Ryan Lindley was in way over his head in this game, and that the Arizona offense was moribund in his hands. The Seahawks had given up more yards in penalties (of which they had 10) in the first half than the Cardinals offense had gained under Lindley. The only thing concerning Hawks fans at this point was that, despite the dominance, Seattle only had 14 points to show for it. On the score board at least, it was still a game.

The Cardinals got another field goal towards the end of the 3rd quarter when Seahawks place kicker Steven Hauschka missed a long field goal (one of three misses he had in the game), thus turning the ball over to the Cardinals with field position. In the subsequent possession Lindley made his one explosive play of the game, a 31 yard pass to Michael Floyd who beat Richard Sherman for the catch. From there the Hawks defense held and the Cardinals got their field goal to cut Seattle’s lead to 8 points at 14-6.

Entering the 4th quarter the Cardinals were only 1 score down and still had some hope, but it wasn’t long before Wilson, Willson, Lynch and Co. put an end to that. On Seattle’s next possession, as a result of the Cardinals lone sack of Wilson during the entire game, the Hawks had a 2nd down and 20 situation at their own 30 yard line. As Russell Wilson came to the line of scrimmage for the next play he surveyed the Arizona defense before him, instantly recognized the coming blitz, and knew that his tight end Luke Willson would be isolated against Cardinals linebacker Larry Foote one on one. Knowing his tight end is roughly twice as fast as Foote (Willson ran a 4.5 second 40 yard dash in the scouting combine before he was drafted), the Hawks QB also knew he had a mismatch. On seeing this, and in the shotgun, Wilson started excitedly pounding his foot on the turf to get his center to snap him the ball, which he finally did, whereupon the QB hit Willson with a beautifully placed pass (ESPN’s Trent Dilfer would call it a “dime”), right over Foote’s outstretched hand for a 38 yard gain to the Cardinals 31 yard line. Believe it or not, 3 plays later, with a first and 10 at the Arizona 20 yard line, Wilson hit Willson again, right down the seam, this time for 20 yards and a touchdown; and once again it was Foote they victimized. For a good defense, for whatever reason, the Cardinals were a bit slow on the uptake in this game.

With the 2nd TD pass to Luke Willson the Hawks moved out to a 21-6 lead, and with the way the Hawks defense was playing the game was no longer in doubt. Someone forgot to tell Marshawn Lynch however. With 10 minutes and 28 seconds left in the game Seattle had a 1st down and 15 yards to go (due to another false start penalty) on their own 21 yard line. The play called in the huddle was Lynch’s money play, a power run designed specifically for him. Essentially it was the same play he took to the house with a 40 yard run against the 49ers in last year’s NFC Championship game; and that he scored on with his legendary “Beast Quake” run against the Saints in the playoffs a few years back.

Marshawn Lynch backwards leap into end zone

Marshawn Lynch backwards leap into end zone

On the play, which is designed to go off left tackle, Lynch is stationed as the single running back behind Russell Wilson. On the snap of the ball the “play side” linemen (the center, left guard and left tackle) all block their assigned defenders to the right, while the right guard (JR Sweezy) pulls back to the left and leads Lynch through the created hole. Against the Cardinals the play worked so well at the point of attack that Sweezy could hardly find anyone to block. Lynch took the handoff and followed Sweezy right through the hole, broke an ankle high, arm tackle and busted into the Cardinals secondary. Just like last year against the 49ers, a massive cutback lane appeared to Lynch’s right and he took off through it, angling downfield and towards the right sideline with Arizona’s Patrick Peterson and Rashad Johnson in hot pursuit. Peterson caught up with Lynch just as the Seattle running back arrived at the right sideline and was starting to cut down field. He attempted to tackle Lynch high while trying to strip the ball, but Marshawn simply shrugged him off, causing the Arizona defensive back to go flying out of bounds. A split second later Johnson arrived and Lynch tossed him aside with a stiff arm, kept his feet in bounds, and took off down field, running like a bat out of hell. Cardinals linebacker Alex Okafur made a dive for him at about the 20 yard line but Lynch easily broke that tackle and with the help of a late block from Ricardo Lockette, reprised his trademark, crotch grabbing, backwards dive into the end zone from his Saints “Beast Quake” play, to complete a 79 yard touchdown run .

To Hawks fans, and to anyone who loves football, Lynch’s run was poetry. There is an awesome aesthetic to Lynch’s style and power that is captivating. The closest back that I can compare him to is the legendary “Tyler Rose”– Earl Campbell of the old Houston Oilers. I well recall watching Monday night football decades ago and seeing Earl break off a run much like Lynch’s run on Sunday night. That gives you an index of the Seattle running back’s greatness, that I have to go back over 30 years to find a comparable. Now I know someone will say Barry Sanders was better, or Eric Dickerson, or Adrian Peterson. I know those guys were great, but for my money I will take Marshawn Lynch any day of the week. The guy has the heart of a champion; and he is the soul of the Seattle Seahawks!

The legendary Earl Cambell

The legendary Earl Cambell

A few minutes after Lynch’s incredible run the Hawks scored again when, from the Arizona 6 yard line, Russell Wilson rolled to his left, juked Okafur (it was a tough night for the Cardinals linebacker), stiff armed his way around him; and gave the ‘ol “now you see me, now you don’t” fake to Cardinals cornerback Antonio Cromartie before waltzing into the end zone to make the final score of 35-6. The Sunday Night Football broadcast team of Cris Collinsworth and Al Michaels spent the next 5 minutes extolling the virtues of Wilson, Lynch and the Hawks defense and  flat out stated that they were the team to beat in the NFC playoff sprint to the Super Bowl. “We have seen magic tonight out of the Seattle Seahawks,” Collinsworth said. “I hope people didn’t go to bed early tonight, because we have seen a show here in the 2nd half. That run by Marshawn Lynch was as good as I’ve seen, and Russell Wilson just makes it too easy…they are the team to beat!”

While I agree with Collinsworth, there is still a little matter to take care of—and that would be the game against the St. Louis Rams this coming Sunday at “The Clink”. As great as the Hawks looked against the Cardinals—and they really did look great, rolling up an historic 596 yards on offense (with 7 explosive plays of 20 yards or more) while holding the Cards to 216 yards—now is no time for them to get ahead of themselves. With a win against the Rams Seattle will complete those final 6 games of the season with a 6-0 record and is virtually assured of the best NFC record and home field advantage through the playoffs; a vital sub-product to defending last year’s Super Bowl championship.  However, you know Jeff Fisher and his boys will come ready to play, as they always do, and the Hawks need to be ready.

I think they will be. In the locker room after the game on Sunday, Hawks safety Kam Chancellor gathered up his teammates to deliver a message—and you know when Chancellor talks, players listen:

“Hey fellas,” Chancellor said, “success is not owned, it’s rented. Pay your dues every day. Let’s get ready for next week!”

I think Seattle will play like the champions they are this coming Sunday.

Go Hawks!

Copyright © 2014

By Mark Arnold

All Rights Reserved

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4 Responses to Magic in the Desert : Seahawks Spank Cardinals-Grab Inside Track for Home Field Advantage Through Playoffs—by Mark Arnold

  1. Wade says:

    Hi Mark, what most journalists focus on is that the Cardinals were playing with a third string QB against a mighty defense. What is even MORE remarkable and is missed or underplayed, are the 596 yards against an exceptional and very good Cardinal defense. Our offense whooped their collective asses. Just sayin,

    • Mark Arnold says:

      Hi Wade!

      Agree with you totally. By far the best offensive game of the season for Seattle! Wilson was awesome and Marshawn’s run was as good as it gets. Loved the way they played. Now on to the Rams and lets get that bye and home field advantage! Go Hawks!!! L Mark

  2. Awesome article Mark, I particularly agree with your thoughts om Marshawn Lynch. I see characteristics of many of the all time greats within Marshawn running style and of course, his heart and intention level are as strong as any to ever play the game.

    As I look out the window to this clear, beautiful, chilly day with great sunshine, I’m feeling a tremendous feeling. A feeling of supreme confidence and a feeling greatness for the ages regarding our home town team.

    Go Hawks!!!!

    • Mark Arnold says:

      Hi Steve and thanks for your aesthetic view on the Hawks! Despite all of the mid season turmoil, by any measure this team has accomplished its primary target to repeating as Super Bowl Champs-number 1 seed in the NFC and home field advantage through the playoffs…The next few weeks will be fun! Go hawks!!

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