Before the Seattle Seahawks kicked off at 1:05 PM at Century Link Field last Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals, were your expectations for their season high? If so, after Seattle just inched out a 21-20 victory in the final seconds of the game, had those expectations suddenly escaped you?
Allow me to share a some texts I received during the game from my friend Matt who is as impassioned of a Seahawks fan as anyone I know, and also someone who generally optimistic about their chances.
Unbelievable. But did WE GET a new offensive coordinator??
Bruh. I’m going for a walk whenever the offense is on the field.
I just can’t right now. The Bengals. The f***ing Bengals.
I just can’t. I’ll time in for the 2 minute drill.
I’ve adjusted my expectations to 8-8.. I know it’s early but.. Yeesh.
Most of my responses to Matt were intent on calming him, but I understood where he was coming from. That wasn’t the match that I was expecting either. I felt Seattle would, and should handle a Bengal team, one that I figured was vastly inferior, much more easily. But maybe the Bengals aren’t that inferior.
Andy Dalton, while not the dynamic passer that Russell Wilson is, has always been a quality starter in this league, good enough to lead the Bengals into the playoffs five times in the eight seasons he has been their passer. That’s not exactly bottom feeder material. Also, any Seattle fan should have been aware of how dynamic John Ross can be at wide receiver, having played some prolific college ball at the University of Washington.
Defensively, the Bengals have Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap on their line. Atkins is one of the very best defensive tackles in the game, outside of Aaron Donald, he might be the best, and Dunlap is a player comparable to Calais Campbell. If the Rams had Campbell on their line with Donald this year, I think that would be a terrifying proposition for any reasonable Seattle Seahawks fan. Both players have given Russell Wilson fits over the years.
Now factor in the the Bengals were coached by brand new head coach Zach Taylor, the former Rams’ quarterback coach who knew the Seattle defense pretty darn well, while, on the other hand, the Seahawks had very little game tape to scout on this new look Bengal offense. Suddenly, you begin to formulate the advantage that the Bengals actually had in this match. It was fairly significant.
The Bengals had a full season of game tape to study on Seattle offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer’s offense and Ken Norton’s defense. Conversely, Seattle didn’t really know what to expect from Cincinnati on either side of the ball.
The Bengals did everything they could to take away Seattle’s run game and they double teamed Russell Wilson’s favorite target Tyler Lockett. They were determined not to be beat by Seattle’s run game and they forced Wilson to look for other targets with an offense that was filled with unproven targets. It was a smart approach, and it nearly worked. Fortunately for Seattle fans, Wilson found rookie receiver extraordinaire DK Metcalf early and often enough to keep Seattle’s offense alive enough to somehow manage three touchdowns.
Offensively, Cincinnati picked on second year cornerback Tre Flowers and free safety Tedric Thompson. This was another smart approach. There has been a lot of hype about Flowers going into this season, but the reality is that he is still a converted college safety who is learning to play corner, and Thompson is a free safety who is a limited athlete. John Ross is the fastest player in the league. I would have matched him up against them in zone coverage, as well.
Looking at all of this, is it really a surprise that Seattle struggled in this match?
Yes, Seattle’s offensive line could have, and should have played better, but this time of the year, most offensive lines tend to struggle because of the limits of playing together during the preseason. Defensive linemen always have an advantage in these early games, and Seattle reserve defensive tackle Quinton Jefferson was arguably the player of the game with two sacks, six tackles and two pass defenses.
Yes, Seattle’s offensive coordinator could have adjusted better against the Bengal defense that was selling out to take away the run. He could have spread the defense out more to soften up the front. They could have ran outside more than inside. He could have called for a quicker passing attack. The good news is the next day, head coach Pete Carroll admitted that they should have adjusted better, and I think next time faced with similar conditions, they likely will. The Bengals defense likely gave them a blue print for how teams defend Seattle this year.
And yes, it was also a bit odd that Seattle chose to keep three linebackers on the field when Cincinnati was in three receiver sets, but here is the thing; had Tedric Thompson simply made a fairy simple play on a deep pass that Andy Dalton hung out there at the end of the second quarter, Seattle probably would have won this game more comfortably by a score of something like 21-13 instead of the nail biting 21-20 final.
Football is a game of inches, and Thompson was inches away from making a simple routine play. I take solace in knowing that if Thompson does not play better, Seattle has other safeties on the roster that they can go to, and Carroll will not hesitate to make a move.
It’s also important to note that Seattle is perfectly willing to allow quarterbacks to have big passing days so long as they do not give up large chunk plays. Carroll’s philosophy is to keep plays in front of you, don’t allow plays to get behind you, and the more the quarterback passes, the more chances exist for the quarterback to make a mistake, or something to go wrong, and the defense gets a turnover.
Under Carroll, Seattle is now 6-0 whenever quarterbacks have passed for 400 yards or more. That is an important record to remember when looking at Dalton’s career passing day against these Seahawks. It’s important to remind ourselves just how this defense is designed to function.
Pete Carroll’s defense, even in the height of the LOB fame, is the definition of Bend Don’t Break. They are perfectly willing to give up yards and trade field goals for touchdowns, and this final score of 21-20 against the Bengals shows that. The Bengals scored five times opposed to Seattle scoring three times. They owned the time of possession and almost all the yardage stats, but they settled for field goals while Seattle made three touchdowns, and they lost the turnover differential battle. In a sense, this game is classic Pete Carroll Seattle Seahawks football.
It’s also not a lot different than a lot of other Seattle starts to their season under Carroll, even during the Super Bowl years. This is why I am still sticking with my 11-5 prediction, even though this game did not go as expected. The main reason why I am comfortable to stay with this projection is that Seattle has a lot of history on their side. Think back on things. We’ve seen this movie several times before.
In 2013, the season in which Seattle won the Super Bowl, they started the season by winning a grueling 12-7 victory in Carolina. Later in the season, they barely pulled out a 14-9 win in St Louis against another awful Rams team. In that game against the Rams, they didn’t look, or play like the team that would go on to steamroll the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl. They looked kinda like the team that just played against the Bengals.
In 2015, the Seattle lost a painfully close opener in St Louis against a horrible Rams team by 31-34 in overtime. They went on and finished the year at 10-6, and making it as far as the divisional round of the playoffs.
In 2016, Seattle opened the season at home against a perceived inferior opponent in the Miami Dolphins. In that game, Miami’s defense had Seattle’s number and Ndamukong Suh practically broke Russell Wilson on an awkward sack play where he landed viciously on his ankle. Seattle painfully managed to sneak out a 12-10 win, and the season felt painfully uncertain, yet they finished the season winning the division, hosting, and winning a playoff game.
Last year, in 2018, Seattle went on the road and lost a close opener to the Denver Broncos 24-27. They then lost the following game in Chicago, and they started the season 0-2. Those were perceived to be easier games on their schedule, and it felt almost certain that they were not going to be a competitive team for the first time in a long while. Seattle went on to finish the season 10-6, and earned yet another playoff birth, while Denver finished their season with a miserable 6-10 record.
You can clearly see where I’m going with all this. Seattle has a pattern of starting their seasons off in lackluster ways, and occasionally laying a few eggs throughout the course of their seasons. You could call it Pete Ball.
In Pete Carroll’s tenure as the head coach of the Seahawks, this team has previously made the playoffs seven out of nine times, they have only lost in the opening round of the playoffs only once, and they have been to two Super Bowls, winning one of them. Those are instant Hall of Fame numbers for Carroll. However, out of those season opener games, Seattle was 4-5, and are now they are 5-5 with this close win against the Bengals. That is as so-so of a season opener record as one could have it.
Winning a close game at home to a Bengals team that might actually be better than some are expecting isn’t a death sentence to their season at all. In fact, barely winning against a Bengals team that might end up being pretty bad also isn’t a signal of dark days ahead for this franchise, either.
The truth of the matter is that Seattle has a consistent winning formula behind its Hall of Fame destined head coach. It is to protect the ball whenever they are on offense, and take the ball away when they are on defense. Against the Bengals, Seattle lost the yardage battle by seemingly embarrassing numbers, but they won the turnover differential, and Carroll would likely point to that as the primary reason why they won.
The reason why Seattle is stubborn about running the ball is that it is an easier way for them to protect the ball, and eventually they know their star quarterback is going to make plays that will make the defenses pay for selling out against that stubborn rushing attack. He did that multiple times against the Bengals, and that is another huge reason why Seattle ultimately won this match.
This is Seattle’s formula. It might not always be pretty. It might, in fact, severely annoy the contingent of fans that want to see Seattle join the pass happiness of the rest of the league, but that is not the formula of the head coach, and he has history, years of post season success, and all kinds of stats to back up his preferred style.
Personally, I am still very much trusting Pete on this one. I am looking at this game last Sunday, and I am chalking it up to another season opener in which the team had a lot of sloppy play, but still fought hard, and found ways to win. To me, it was a sign of a team that needs to get more settled on offense, and work out the kinks of a defense that allowed explosive plays that kept Cincinnati very much alive last Sunday. Under Pete Carroll, in the Russell Wilson era, it’s practically automatic that they do that.
When we look over the years, we’ve seen enough times how this whole thing plays out. Last year, they started last season 0-2 and still made the playoffs. They are 1-0 starting this season. That’s not bad.
And let me be clear, there is absolutely nothing wrong with dropping your expectations. It might even be therapeutic. My buddy Matt later said that he was dropping his down to 8-8 simply so that he could better enjoy the season. There is decent logic in that, and truth be told, there are definite ways in which Seattle could end up 8-8, even with a healthy Russell Wilson. Seattle is presently fairly thin at receiver and cornerback these days. If they lost Tyler Lockett and Shaquill Griffin to serious injury, there could be some troubling waters ahead if others don’t step up. If the offensive line looses Duane Brown and DJ Fluker, that could spell certain trouble, as well.
The thing of it is, though, Russell Wilson has perhaps the single most uncanny way, of any starting NFL quarterback, to lead his team to wins. In 2016, the dude played through a high ankle sprain, a strained knee, and a torn pec muscle to guide Seattle to a division winning season without much of a run game to depend on. What other QB in this league does that? So long as this guy is on the field, they are going to be in most games more time than not, and that is probably the single biggest reason outside of the head coach, why I still feel comfortable that Seattle can win eleven games this year.
Before the Jadeveon Clowney trade, I was thinking Seattle was likely destined for another 9-7 or perhaps a 10-6 season, with a decent chance at the playoffs. Personally, I think Clowney’s presence on the defense is good for two more wins to that, and 11-5 just sounds about right. It was a good start for him on the defense last Sunday. It will only get better as he gets more accustomed.
What do I know, though? I’m just a fan. Sixteen games is a lot of football for a lot of things to happen. I just think Russell Wilson and Pete Carroll are magical beings sent to us here in the PNW so that we can enjoy winning football.
Why they sometimes play down to some opponents in some games, I don’t ultimately know. Maybe they get too conservative at times when they shouldn’t, but I do know that they also tend to play up to big opponents in other games in the same duration of their seasons, as well. This is a team that can loose to a struggling Redskins team at home one week, and then go into Foxborough and beat the World Championship Patriots the next.
This is why I think that it wouldn’t be a stunner if they went into Pittsburgh this Sunday, and actually pulled out a win that very few experts will likely predict. When Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson play with house money in the Expectations Casino, they tend to come out ahead more times than not over the years.
I take solace in that.