A look at the progressive steps taken by the Seahawks in Sunday’s win a Qwest Field, and those that remain works in progress as they prepare for this week’s game against the Rams.
It has been almost 24 hours since the Seahawks’ stunning victory over the San Diego Chargers finally ended, but it’s still perplexing to try and comprehend exactly what transpired at Qwest Field on Sunday.
After covering roughly 465 regular-season Seahawks’ games, it’s difficult to remember one quite like it.
First, there were Leon Washington’s two kickoff returns for touchdowns. The Seahawks are in their 35th season and that has never happened before – not only in one game, but anyone else’s career. And this guy did it in his third game with the team.
Then there were the two interceptions by rookie free safety Earl Thomas. The last time – and only other time – a Seahawks rookie did that in a game was in 1981. Some guy named Kenny Easley.
Now, the Seahawks need to carry the momentum from Sunday’s victory with them to St. Louis and find a way to win on the road.
Here’s a look at three things to build on, three things that still need work and a look at how last week’s needs-work elements played out against the Chargers.
Three steps forward
One. The conundrum that is Qwest for opposing teams. Unfortunately, the Seahawks play only one home game in October – on the 24th against the Arizona Cardinals, the team they currently share the NFC West lead with. Other than that, the Seahawks have games against the Bears in Chicago (Oct. 17) and Raiders in Oakland (Oct. 31), as well as their bye (Oct. 10).
Strange things happen to teams when they venture into Qwest, and Sunday was just the latest example. Chargers QB Philip Rivers passes for 455 yards, and his team loses. The Chargers’ defense holds the Seahawks to one first down and 26 yards in the second half, but the Seahawks win by seven.
That happened, in large and loud part, because the din generated by the crowd forced three false starts and three delay-of-game penalties against the Chargers – with four of them coming on the Chargers’ final two possessions, and inside the Seahawks’ 20-yard line.
As coach Pete Carroll said after the game, “Cooperating with the fans was incredibly cool.”
The flip side of having only one home game in October is the Seahawks playing at Qwest four times in their final six games.
Two. Mr. Washington comes to Washington. When the Seahawks acquired Washington in a draft-day trade with the New York Jets, they envision him transforming their return game. But on one could really know how he would respond after having a steel rod placed in his severely broken right leg last season.
Washington displayed both speed (on his 101-yard return) and persistence (on his 99-yarder). And he could have had a third, if he hadn’t tripped at the end of a 33-yard return.
He’ll have to settle for becoming the 10th player in NFL history to have two in one game.
Three. Red-zone defense. It was good enough that the Seahawks allowed the Chargers one score on three trips inside their 20-yard line in the fourth quarter. That they did it with three injured starters on the sideline made it even better.
With cornerback Marcus Trufant (ankle), defensive tackle Brandon Mebane(calf) and linebacker Aaron Curry (hamstring) out, rookie cornerback Walter Thurmond, tackles Junior Siavii and Kentwan Balmer and linebacker Will Herring not only stepped in, they stepped up.
On the Chargers’ next-to-last possession, Balmer and defensive end Chris Clemons pressured Rivers into throwing incompletions and dime back Roy Lewis tipped away his fourth-down pass. On the Chargers’ final series, Lewis batted away Rivers’ third-down pass in the end zone and Thomas made his second interception on fourth down – with six seconds left.
Three areas that still need work
One. The running game. No surprise here, as this remains – and will remain – a work in progress. But after running for 109 yards and averaging 5.5 yards per carry in last week’s loss to the Broncos in Denver, the Seahawks had 68 yards and a 3.2-yard average against the Chargers.
One big change against the Chargers was Justin Forsett getting 17 of the Seahawks’ 21 carries, after they used a running-back-by-committee approach the first two weeks. But 28 of his 63 yards came on one run, so he averaged 2.2 yards on the other 16.
Two. Third-down defense. The Chargers converted 43 percent (six of 14) for the game. But Rivers completed passes to convert on third-and-12 three times and also once on third-and-11 late in the game. It offset the good work the defense did on earlier third-down situations – most noticeably a pair of sacks by Clemons and Red Bryant making a tackle for a 1-yard loss on a running play.
Three. Blitz pickup. Matt Hasselbeck was sacked in the end zone for a safety when Chargers linebacker Brandon Siler came untouched through a gap between the center and left guard. The safety-producing sack came on a second-and-10 play with Hasselbeck in the shotgun.
Last week’s improvement list
One. Third-down defense. There were the good plays, but also the not-so-good plays. The defense countered by making two huge plays on fourth down with the Chargers inside their 20-yard line.
Two. Hasselbeck’s consistency. Despite the lack of offensive output in the second half, this area was improved. Hasselbeck threw a touchdown pass to tight end John Carlson and should have had another to wide receiver Deion Branch – but Chargers safety Paul Oliver poked the ball from Branch’s grasp just before he got to the goal line and ball went out of the end zone for a touchback.
Three. First-down defense. This area made about as much sense as the rest of the game. The Seahawks allowed 11 plays of at least 12 yards on first downs – including completions of 49 and 28 yards. But they also got an interception, a fumble recovery and a sack of first-down plays, as well as holding the Chargers to 3 or fewer yards on nine other first-down plays. And, nine of Rivers’ 24 incompletions came on first downs.