Carroll

“I have never seen a team like these Pete Carroll Seahawks of the last 4 years.”

I am sixty-four years old and through my life I have watched a lot of football. As a young kid growing up in Seattle we had no pro football, so I made do with the Washington Huskies of Jim Owens[1] and, starting with their legendary, sudden death overtime NFL Championship victory over the New York Giants in 1958[2], the Baltimore Colts of Johnny Unitas and Raymond Berry. Over the years with those two teams, I reveled in every victory and anguished with every defeat. When the Seahawks were formed in 1976 my pro football allegiance shifted immediately to our hometown team and I have stayed true to them ever since—a span of nearly 40 years. I can honestly tell you that in all of  that time, going all the way back to when I was eight years old, I have never seen a team like these Pete Carroll Seahawks of the last 4 years. It isn’t just the fact that they are good, though they certainly are that. It’s more that they are just plain fascinating.

Russell Wilson: Pocket passer supreme

Russell Wilson: Pocket passer supreme

As a case in point, let’s take a look at the last two games this team played to close out the 2015 regular season—the 23-17 loss to the St. Louis Rams on December 27th at “The Clink” and the 36-6 blowout of the Arizona Cardinals last weekend in Arizona. I’ll wager, if we are all being honest, that none of us expected to lose to the Rams at home and then go on the road and not just beat the Cardinals, but destroy them. When the Hawks lost to the Rams I was dismayed. To me that loss completely tarnished the luster of Seattle’s season salvaging 5 game win streak, 4 of which were blowouts, that lead up to that Rams tilt. Across those prior 5 games the Seahawks had re-invented themselves it seemed. They had lost to injury first Marshawn Lynch, then Jimmy Graham, and then Lynch’s replacement at running back, the latest in a string of Carroll/Schneider undrafted gems, Thomas Rawls; only to have Russell Wilson become a pocket passer supreme, touchdown throwing machine and Doug Baldwin become a Raymond Berry/Steve Largent clone who leads the league in scoring grabs. The offensive line, so maligned through the first half of the season, was suddenly giving Wilson clean pockets and all day to throw the ball; and rookie receiver/kick returner Tyler Lockett was becoming a bonafide deep threat. In other words, with every excuse in the world to throw in the towel, the Hawks not only got better; they started looking like the Super Bowl contender we “twelves” knew them to be all along. By the time of the Rams game, despite the expected Jeff Fisher[3] voodoo, there was no way I thought Seattle could lose to a 6-8 St. Louis team.

Tyler Lockett: A bonafide deep threat

Tyler Lockett: A bonafide deep threat

So when the Rams stole that game from the Hawks on Seattle’s home field, well, my confidence was shaken to say the least. Looking ahead to the last game of the season against the Arizona Cardinals on their home field, the team that many were anointing as the next NFC Champion and Super Bowl representative; and on the same field where just 10 months earlier the Patriots’ Malcolm Butler made that devastating Big Game interception to send the Seahawks to the Heartbreak Hotel, I just didn’t think it realistic to expect a Seattle victory. I figured the Cardinals would win by a touchdown or so and that the Hawks would limp into the playoffs with a 9-7 record and on a two game losing streak.

That’s what I figured.

Oh, me of little faith! You’d think I’d have learned by now.

The Seahawks went down to the desert and simply handed the Cardinals their tail feathers. With Russell Wilson throwing 3 first half touchdowns and the Legion of Boom and the rest of the defense playing lights out, the Seahawks led 30-6 at halftime and never looked back. Watching the Hawks pound the Cardinals like that was beyond gratifying; it was absolutely fascinating, and I found myself wondering: just how does Pete Carroll do it?

Take a look at it. In that Arizona game the Hawks top two running backs, Christine Michael and Bryce Brown, just two weeks earlier were cast offs that no team wanted; yet Brown scored Seattle’s first touchdown and Michael gained 102 yards from scrimmage while averaging 6 yards a carry. In that Cardinals game the Seahawks were missing their top two offensive linemen, left tackle Russell Okung and right guard J.R. Sweezy. Replacing Okung was Alvin Bailey and replacing Sweezy was a rookie named Mark Glowinski, a player who had never started an NFL game before; yet the offense did not miss a beat. With tight end Jimmy Graham out for the season and his replacement Luke Willson out with a concussion, the Seahawks went with their third string tight end Cooper Helfet and another late season pick up named Chase Coffman who was playing his first game with the Hawks. Between them those two caught 8 passes for 71 yards with one of Wilson’s scoring tosses going to Coffman. In addition Seattle was also missing its Pro Bowl strong safety Kam Chancellor who was out for the 3rd straight game. Cancellor’s replacement was another undrafted free agent; former Kansas City Chief and Miami Dolphin Kelcie McCray; yet the Hawks defense and the LOB simply dominated the Cardinals.

Seahawks running back Christine Michael rushed for 102 yards vs. Cards

Seahawks running back Christine Michael rushed for 102 yards vs. Cards

What can you say? To go down there and beat the Cardinals like that; one of the best, if not THE best, teams in the league, with two 2nd string linemen, two 3rd string running backs, 3rd and 4th string tight ends and a 2nd string, undrafted free agent safety, is nothing short of amazing.

To me it is also REALLY interesting.

I am left to conclude that Pete Carroll is something of a genius when it comes to the handling of that most delicate commodity—players’ psyches. The guy is way over due for a Coach of the Year award in my book.

All of which brings us to the matter at hand this coming Sunday, and that is the start of the NFL Playoffs and the Seahawks’ Wild Card Weekend opponent, the Minnesota Vikings. These are the same Vikings the Hawks throttled last month on the same Vikings TCF Bank home field this weekend’s game will be played on. The main difference between that game and this is that according to weather reports it will be about 30 degrees colder in Minneapolis, making it projected to be one of the coldest playoff games in NFL history. (So much for global warming) Add to that the fact that the Vikings will return 3 defensive starters they were missing back in early December, including free safety Harrison Smith, who has just been named the NFL’s best safety by Pro Football Focus. Because of these factors the Hawks can expect a tougher and lower scoring game than last month’s. The latest reports have it that Marshawn Lynch will not play in this game so it will be up to Russell Wilson and his group of cast offs to somehow continue their magic despite the cold. The basic game plan for Seattle on defense will still be to limit the yards of Vikings All World running back Adrian Peterson and thereby force 2nd year Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to beat them; something I don’t believe he is capable of doing. I expect the Hawks to leave Minneapolis a bit cold perhaps, but with a victory by 10 points or so, thus setting up a Divisional Round showdown with the 15-1 Carolina Panthers the following weekend in Carolina.

Chase Coffman's moment of glory

Chase Coffman’s moment of glory

The Seahawks have made the first target they had to make to return to the Super Bowl for a 3rd consecutive season—make the playoffs. That’s a done! To get to the Big Game the Hawks will need to win 3 consecutive games, on the road and against the best competition the NFC can muster. And that challenge starts now with the Vikings.

I am not certain the Seahawks will pull it off, but I have no doubt in my mind that they CAN pull it off. I recall reading that only 10 Wild Card teams have ever made it to the Super Bowl, so it will be tough.

But at their best this is one very good–and fascinating–team.  And I would never bet against them!

It’s going to be a fun 3 weeks I think.

Go Hawks!

Copyright © 2016

By Mark Arnold

All Rights Reserved

 

[1] Washington Huskies head coach Jim Owens took his team to Rose Bowl victories following 10 win seasons in 1959 and 1960. He coached the Huskies for 18 seasons, from 1957 to 1974.

[2] Widely considered the greatest pro football game ever played, the Baltimore Colts 1958 sudden death, overtime victory over the New York Giants is today acknowledged as the game that launched pro football’s modern era and ushered in football’s TV age.

[3] As head coach of the St. Louis Rams over the last few seasons, Jeff Fisher has consistently gotten his team to play well vs. the Seahawks though the Rams have otherwise struggled.

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