History happened tonight. Not NFL history, but Seahawks history. Tonight marked the moment when there would be no doubters left among the Seahawks faithful, a moment where Jim Harbaugh realized just what he's in store for over the next decade, and a moment when the entire nation witnessed something team observers have known for a while, that something special is going on with the Seattle Seahawks.
Normally I start off these things with a bit of an essay before rattling off factoids, but there is a point I want to drive home so I'm going to end with it, Jerry Springer style. So tonight, factoids come first.
Random thoughts and observations
Russell Wilson is almost incapable of throwing an interception that didn't touch the hands of his target first. Out of 10 picks this year, how many were 100% on Wilson? There was the Luke Kuechly pick... there might have been one or two others... but there haven't been many.
And really, the reason Wilson is still a huge long shot for RoY is because of those 10 interceptions. It would be nice if we had a new stat that tracked "fumbleceptions" or some such name- a play where the target of the pass deserved the lion's share of the blame. Baseball does this with errors, and pitchers are essentially not charged with runs they allow as a result of them. If an "error" stat existed in the NFL, Wilson would have 3 or 4 interceptions right now, and he'd lead all rookies in passer rating. Maybe he'd lead everybody in passer rating. I can't speak for the rest of the league, but I've never seen a Seahawks QB suffer a higher percentage of interceptions that basically weren't his fault.
Wilson is a rookie of the year candidate in what has been the best rookie season for offense in history. By a large margin. Were he doing this week in and week out for the New York Jets, he'd probably be a shoe-in for rookie of the year and probably even get serious mentions for MVP. But in Seattle, he will need to go above and beyond.
Well, tonight was going above and beyond. Is Wilson still on the outside looking in? Anyone that watched the game tonight (and there were a lot of people watching) realized that the award isn't just about yards. Wilson threw for just 171 yards and it was all he needed to eviscerate the #1 defense on arguably the #1 team in the NFL. He was 11-12 on 3rd downs, including a few 3rd down TD passes. He was a perfect 4/4 in the red zone. Putting up those kind of numbers on a terrible NFL defense is very impressive, because it's still an NFL team. And he did that against THE best NFL defense. In a rivalry game. A game SF had to have for a bye week.
Granted, SF was far from full strength tonight on defense without Smith, but most viewers won't know that. They'll just remember the 49ers team that did the unthinkable to the Patriots a mere week ago. And even at less than full strength, this was nothing less than one of the most impressive rookie performances in NFL history. Wilson may not win the award, but he's making fans across the country. Over the next decade, he might even start making Seahawks fans all over the country*. Now that's a thought.
*Bill Simmons, Colin Cowherd, et al... he's already doing it.
Sidney Rice was a game time decision and he did play, but even by playing and contributing little he showed the tremendous impact he has on this offense. Rice played with a bum knee and was more decoy than threat. That earned him very few targets and forced Wilson to find alternatives in the passing game. The result was Wilson having to hold the ball for an eternity on seemingly every throw for about a two quarter stretch in this game.
The 49ers secondary may not be loaded with superstar big name players, but it is a legitimately great coverage defense. Quite frankly I thought they covered far better than our secondary did tonight, at least if judged by how often both QBs found wide open targets.
Our WRs couldn't get open, and most of them do not improvise well. It forced Wilson to do ridiculous things to buy time and remind Cris Collinsworth to use the Fran Tarkenton comparison. It was the reason Wilson seemed more than happy to target Jermaine Kearse despite how he makes every catch feel like a 50/50 proposition. Kearse knows how to get open. And when Rice is ailing, we just don't have enough Jermaine Kearses to run great routes and free themselves up. Against lesser defenses, this isn't an issue. But against the great pass defenses, this has been evident all year.
Even when Wilson did pull the trigger, how often was it into very tight coverage? In fairness to our WR corps, they made up for the lack of separation somewhat with some unbelievable catches tonight. But put simply, this WR group without a healthy Rice does not make it look easy.
Seattle does have a good WR corps, but they need just one more guy that is money at getting separation and improvising to get open. That player could be as great as Greg Jennings or Wes Welker, or it could be a player as seemingly innocuous as Joe Jurevicius or Bobby Engram when they arrived here. But they need that guy. Rice is kind of that guy, and he's all we got right now. Tate is not that guy. Baldwin isn't that guy. Kearse is not that guy, although he could be if he learns how to catch. Hopefully Rice can stay healthy, because with a healthy Rice I think our offense is damn near unstoppable.
I don't think SF actually scored that last TD. I think if that play had decided the game, it would have been reviewed and overturned. The WR appeared to fully lose control of the ball and upon regaining it, looked to have his knee out of bounds. That's how I saw it anyway.
Stop me if you've heard this before: Seattle's pass rush sucked with a base rush, and once again it came to life when Carroll sent blitzers. I'm beginning to wonder- is Pete saving his blitzes for the postseason? I think he just might be. At least, I hope he is. Pete's brilliant, but he's not incapable of missing something right in front of his nose sometimes.
It's funny, I actually came away very impressed with Jim Harbaugh in this game. He got his ass kicked, but Seattle only outgained SF by 33 yards. The 49ers handled the read option better than most teams had, keeping Seattle to "only" 176 yards rushing (and a very reasonable- all things considered- 4.5 yards per carry). Seattle had averaged something like 250 yards a game rushing in the previous three weeks- two of them against very tough defenses.
When Seattle finally pulled out the trick play, Harbaugh was ready for it, and his defense almost got a turnover out of it. When Wilson dropped back to pass, he bought all the time in the world and yet his receivers remained glued to the DBs. Lynch was stuffed a lot in this game. It all spoke to how well Harbaugh prepared his team this week. Honestly, I'm impressed. It just makes tonight's result that much more incredible.
I'll never get to watch Seattle crush a Bill Cowher coached Steelers team in the Superbowl and watch tears stream down his whiny little tantrum face. I won't get that chance, but tonight came pretty close to that level of Schadenfreude. Harbaugh is pretty easy to dislike and he's deserved a butt whooping like this for some time. And unlike the big losses he suffered to the Giants and Vikings- this game didn't feel like a fluke and wasn't built off a horrible Alex Smith performance. Nope, the Seahawks pretty much just crushed them. They put Harbaugh's team in it's place, and there were several wonderful moments when Harbaugh's bruised ego shown through in his reactions.
I thought Colin Kaepernick played decently well tonight. He had all night to throw for much of the game, but when Seattle finally started bringing pressure late in the game I thought he did an outstanding job avoiding pressure and finding targets. Make no mistake, this is still a growing QB with a very high ceiling. He really struggled with the noise but you'd expect that. I think his biggest problem was not trusting his WRs more. He had some very poor throws to open targets throughout the game, I guess because he was trying to be conservative and avoid mistakes. He then reverted to the opposite in the end zone, relying on his arm too much, and it finally cost him. He did make some fantastic throws in this game, especially his very last one on 4th and 17.
Seattle is getting penalized less in the last month or so than they had been in 2011 or in the early part of this season. But more impressively, Wilson is showing the ability to overcome penalties and keep drives moving. An extra 10 yards from a hold is a devastating penalty to most ball control offenses. It's a sign of an elite QB when offenses can work out of those problems regularly. And right now Wilson is shrugging off setbacks with regularity.
There were some great catches in this game, but let's not forget about that fully extended grab by Robert Turbin on 3rd down. It was good to see that after the huge drop-ception he had earlier in the game (as well as the would-be-TD drop he had in the first game).
There is a lot of misinformation out there which accuses Carroll of copying Jim Harbaugh. As Scottemojo would say with the utmost class and sophistication: it's mostly bullshit.
But for all the false accusations, Carroll did actually steal something from Harbaugh recently: the Pistol-in-the-NFL idea. And he's doing it better than Harbaugh can. So thanks for that Jimmy. Now eat it. Hey, if Pete is going to "copy" Harbaugh, he might as well show him how it's done.
Tonight was a showdown between a pair of teams that many people believe to be the two most talented in the NFL. The final score: 42-13. How can that even be possible?
It's possible because for as talented as Colin Kaepernick may be, he does not have the faith of his teammates that Russell Wilson has. He does not transform their offense the way Wilson has in Seattle. Seattle's offense last year ranked near the bottom of the league, and with nearly the same group returning it is now among the best in football. That can't be explained just by big numbers. Wilson is only averaging around 200 yards passing a game. The reason it's happening is because of efficiency and synergy. The offense with Wilson has become almost impossible to stop in the red zone, and lately, on 3rd downs too. The use of the pistol and read option has taken this offense into it's own stratosphere. Before the season, I predicted that Seattle would post solid yardage but score a lot of points. Tonight was the perfect example of that, scoring 5 offensive TDs on just 346 total yards.
It's all made possible because Wilson just makes this offense go. It's not just about the plays he makes, it's about how his multidimensional threat and expertise within the offense makes everyone more potent as a side effect. Kaepernick is multifaceted too, but the big difference is Wilson's feel for the game and the unshakable sense of confidence that he has in himself and by extension, the team has in itself. Kaepernick is a talented QB with a bright future; Russell Wilson is an NFL demigod in the making. The NFL's Johnny Football. He is the Alexander the Great or Napoleon of the brave new NFL world.
Seattle had some factors going in their favor- the crowd noise really threw Kaepernick and disrupted him in a way that our pass rush was incapable of during the suspenseful portion of the game. I'm the last person to sound the alarm about our pass rush, but tonight worried me. The 49ers have a great line, but it was laughable how much time Kaepernick had to throw until Carroll finally conceded with some blitzing late in the game. Make no mistake, even though I don't think Wilson would be disrupted nearly as much by the 12thman as Kaepernick was, it was the 12th man who was the MVP on defense tonight. Not the pass rush.
That leads to the question, what hope does Seattle have on the road? Granted, Seattle will not have the crowd noise on their side in the playoffs, and we can probably bank on the pass rush continuing to fail if it rests on a base rush. But here's the optimism angle: our team just crushed maybe the best team in the NFL with crowd noise and a collection of special teams players at corner.
The main reason Seattle has struggled on the road over the years- it's mainly related to the defense and the pass rush specifically. Seattle did not get very good pressure in any of the last 4 games. They are 4-0, winning by a combined score of 173 to 47. This team is destroying NFL opponents without needing a pass rush to do it. And if you take pass rush out of the equation, this team is basically as good on the road as anywhere else. Fluke interceptions aside, Wilson has basically been as good on the road as he's been at home, the running game has always travelled well, as have the stellar special teams play. This is why Seattle suddenly looks like a viable road team- they have trancended their dependence on the pass rush to dominate NFL competition.
And that is, well, unbelievably exciting if this trend continues. Right now it feels like Seattle can't lose a game unless they make five or six huge mistakes during a game, and they aren't exactly handing out mistakes by the bushel right now.
Seattle might just have a shot as a road team in the playoffs after all. They haven't won a road game since 1983, but if that changes and this young team gets a taste of postseason road victory at Dallas or Washington, be ready for what looks like a very real chance at a long ride through the postseason.