Here’s some interesting stats you should know – stats that tell us things.
The Seattle Seahawks ran 72 offensive plays on Sunday against the Chicago Bears. Seattle got off an average of 44 offensive plays per game throughout 2008.
Seattle possessed the ball for 29 minutes, 36 seconds against Chicago. A middling figure, but the average was 26:38 per game in 2008.
Seneca Wallace passed 44 times on Sunday. That’s 15 more than the 2008 average, and it’s also the most single-game passing attempts by one Seahawks quarterback since, interestingly enough, the last time Seattle played the Bears – November 18, 2007.
Despite the fact that Seattle’s 25-19 loss to Chicago ended differently than the 2007 episode, these are stats that should not be ignored. They may offer the most revealing glimpse yet into the true potential of the 2009 Seahawks.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
I’m almost tempted to apologize for my article title. It sounds like a worn-out head coach slumping at the podium after a tough loss, feeling around for carefully stated positives to give the press, while millions of heartbroken Seattle fans scream at their televisions: “HELLO? You just lost the game!”
That might be me under most circumstances. But when I compare our nailbiter against the Bears to the debacle last week against the 49ers…I gotta say, this is the kind of loss I feel weirdly positive about.
And I mean that. You should know that I’m hardly a blind optimist; show-me-first pessimism is more my game. I’m very aware that we’re 1-2 and that a road win next week against the Colts is unlikely. Nothing changes that.
But the fact is, we didn’t lose to the Bears like we did to the 49ers. Not at all.
From looking at our players in Candlestick Park, last week felt like much more of a blowout than the 23-10 score implied. Frank Gore was breaking off runs that made our defense look incompetent to a man. Their passing game needed only a meager 144 yards to keep the Seahawks pinned down. Our offense was overwhelmed. It was a disheartening defeat. Demoralizing. Debilitating. And it showed on the field.
This week was a different story.
Scroll back up and look at those game stats. They indicate that the Seahawks defense did what dominant defenses do: pressured Chicago QB Jay Cutler and got him off the field on third down. Consider what this pressure accomplished:
* Two sacks, a fumble recovery, and a interception induced by pressure from DT Darryl Tapp.
* Limiting Jay Cutler to 247 passing yards and 3 scores that would have been meaningless had our kicker done his job.
* Forcing the Bears to adjust on offense.
* Holding Matt Forte to a very pedestrian 66 yards on 21 carries, defying the trendy prediction by analysts that our running D was the perfect cure for Forte’s early struggles.
* Five three-and-outs. Seattle hasn’t pulled that off in 11 games, not even against the Rams.
Yes, the result was a loss. Yes, the Seahawks are still trailing the 49ers by a game within the division, and should rightly be trailing by two games.
But I place the blame for this loss almost exclusively with two players. Neither guilty party is on the defense, and one has a massive caveat attached to him.
Our defense played scrappy and determined football, folks. For them to keep the game as close and winnable as they did, for as long as they did, is probably the strongest, most unqualified, most positive single statement this 2009 team has yet made about itself. For the moment, them burgers smell good.
WHAT WENT WRONG
The first culprit in this loss is QB Seneca Wallace. The massive caveat attached to him is the fact that he’s the backup quarterback.
I mean, what were we expecting? Backups are backups for a reason. When a backup mans a position in place of an injured starter, it’s common sense to expect a dropoff in quality. Vegas wasn’t stupid when it favored the Bears once Seneca was finally declared the starter for this game.
Seneca made strides last year. He improved his accuracy. He stopped throwing dumb interceptions. He threw some spectacular highlight-reel deep bombs of the kind that Seattle fans were thirsting for after years of the methodical Matt Hasselbeck.
On Sunday, Seneca’s flaws were exposed. He tried to throw off his back foot and overthrew receivers who had beaten coverage. He ran when he should have thrown, and he threw when he should have run. He panicked and sidearmed an easy interception to Bears LB Lance Briggs – from his own end zone – and several other throws should have met the same fate, including the ill-advised scrambling throw that WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh spectacularly bailed him out on. Nate Burleson shed his case of the drops with flair (possibly transferring it to Housh in the process – it’s always somebody on this team, it seems) and had himself a 9-catch, 109-yard day*.
The defense was also trying to come to Seneca’s rescue, keeping Cutler off the field and giving Seneca his 44 attempts. Julius Jones, who I was close to dismissing, kept pressure off Seneca by propping up the run game with 98 rushing yards and by slipping a poor Charles Tillman tackle for Seattle’s only touchdown.
Heck, even the Bears tried to help Seneca out, first by losing LB Brian Urlacher to injury and then losing his replacement, Hunter Hillenmeyer.
And with all that assistance, Seneca Wallace did almost enough to win. His 261 passing yards were a career best (his previous record, ironically, was his very first career start in 2006). I expected he’d find success against a depleted Bears back seven, and he did. It was pretty close to being enough – Seneca did get them to the Chicago 21 on that final, desperate drive.
In the end, it was his decision-making and lack of composure on the field that undid his efforts just enough. Seneca kept several games achingly close during the lost cause that was our 2008 season, but he didn’t have the decision-making and the crunch-time poise to finish games, not quite. Those qualities are what make Matt Hasselbeck the best starter for any Seahawks team that wishes to contend.
Even so, the guys over on FOX’s “Fringe” would tell you that there’s an alternate universe in which the debut of Seattle’s new lime green jerseys is not being remembered as the game where Seneca Wallace proved he’ll never be a franchise QB. That’s because, in that universe, Olindo Mare didn’t shank two field goals, and the Chicago 21 was easily close enough for a last-minute game-winning upright-splitter. Result: Seneca, though an ugly winner, is hailed as a winner nonetheless.
So Mare’s the other culprit. I don’t think I need to say anything more about him. I’m sure Seattle fans will prove more than adequate for that task, and I like that Jim Mora isn’t mincing words about it either.
ODDS AND ENDS
This loss really was a shame, because individual performances abounded on this team. Rookie LB Aaron Curry had his first big play, forcing a fumble on his very first NFL sack (*sniff*…growing up so FAST!). Burleson had his 9 catches and also prevented an interception. MLB David Hawthorne shook off last week’s Goring and racked up an extraordinary 16 tackles and an interception. Jon Ryan’s punting remained solid and, more importantly, he wasn’t being seen every five minutes.
The defense was stifling all the way through, despite some important miscues. The secondary allowed enough big plays to keep Cutler confident, and not just in coverage. I remember seeing Kelly Jennings get brutally blocked out of a play, Jordan Babineaux in tissue-soft coverage allowing a big catch, and Ken Lucas losing containment on a run – all in the same drive. If this defense has an Achilles’ heel, I still worry it’s the secondary, and that doesn’t bode well for next week’s journey to the den of Peyton Manning.
Oh, and whose idea was it to cover Bears TE Greg Olsen with a defensive end on the goal line? Worse yet, an old defensive end who’s not even supposed to be playing end, but tackle? Ugly.
On offense, Seattle got off to just the strong start it needed, and made precious progress in running the ball. The value of Julius Jones’ success here cannot be understated. It allowed Seattle to be multi-dimensional, leaning back and forth between run and pass, keeping the Bears on their toes, and helping the defense keep Cutler on the bench. Our offensive line was solid, benefiting hugely from the return of center Chris Spencer. I hope guard Rob Sims isn’t out too long; there was an immediate drop-off in pass protection once he was replaced by Mansfield Wrotto. I suppose it wouldn’t be a Seahawks game if nobody got injured.
Let me tell you the one thing that drove me nuts: the running call on 3rd and 13 from the Bears’ 26 right before the half, Seattle up 13-7. Instead of going for the throat of the Bears’ secondary, which had proven porous already, and extending the lead beyond a single touchdown (an easy matter with a gunslinger like Cutler), Knapp decided not to risk blowing the lead by throwing, instead calling a 1-yard run that could have had no likely result other than a field goal attempt. It looked almost timid.
Well, they blew the lead. Mare shanked the attempt from 43 yards out, and you could almost feel the momentum bleed lime-green from the Seahawks. Knapp treated the field goal as an automatic thing, and Seahawks, of all teams, should know better. Tony Romo, anyone?
Football is a game of momentum. Missed field goals are the stuff that comeback wins are made of. A six-point game and a nine-point game are completely different animals, with their own separate philosophies and playbooks. One big play, one missed scoring opportunity, can reverse the morale of a team and alter the landscape of a game quicker than Peyton Manning can accept a TV commercial offer.
Maybe Knapp didn’t trust Seneca. Maybe he didn’t trust Housh. Maybe that’s understandable. I don’t know. Nor do I know why Nate Burleson vanished on that last drive, or why our own defense chose Chicago’s go-ahead drive to start letting rushers through.
What I do know is that fans expected Mike Holmgren’s departure to mark the end of conservative play-calling at Qwest Field, and they don’t see it yet.
What I do see is a defense that played its heart out and managed to achieve that elusive combination of speed, awareness, and hard-nosed attitude. I saw receivers on the field working their routes like paperboys to bring Seneca home. I saw Julius Jones showing the good-old-boy versatility and everyman production that we’ve been hoping for since his signing. I saw the team keeping its cool, coming back from long Chicago drives, and playing 60 minutes of football.
That, Seattle, is a much better way to lose.
* WR Nate Burleson is now 2nd in catches among NFC wide receivers and 5th in receiving yards. He’s also Seattle’s receiving leader after a quiet day from TE John Carlson, leaving Houshmandzadeh in third.