The reason I wait until the day after the game to pen this column is simple - the emotions of game day are oftentimes too rich to allow for objective analysis. Case in point? That near-debacle that we all witnessed Sunday in Atlanta.
When the Seahawks jumped out to a seemingly insurmountable 24-0 lead over a struggling Falcons team, fans everywhere rejoiced in what appeared to be a rare case of a Pete Carroll team steamrolling a lesser opponent.
Even yours truly got caught up in the excitement.
It was a fun first half, and for a precious few moments, it was easy to envision a scenario where the starters would earn a break and we’d get to see Geno Smith handing off to Travis Homer to burn off the final minutes of an appropriately laughable blowout.
Obviously that didn’t happen and it's understandable why fans were frustrated by the final 27-20 outcome despite the fact it improved the Seahawks record on the season to 6-2, their best start since 2013.
But these are the Seahawks, and more specifically Pete Carroll’s Seahawks. As much as fans wring their hands hoping to see some newfound aggressive streak the truth of the matter is he is who he is. And who he is... is conservative by nature.
But before you go all the-sky-is-falling on this team’s chances to make the playoffs or do anything significant once they get there, take a breath and consider a few contextual factors regarding Sunday and how it may affect the rest of the season.
THE SECOND HALF COLLAPSE WAS BY DESIGN, SORT OF
As much as fans would've loved to see a 24-0 halftime lead become a 48-0 final score, Carroll had no intention of piling on his former assistant coach and good friend Dan Quinn, who’s fighting for his coaching life in Atlanta. Now in his fifth year as Falcons head coach, Quinn has only won eight of his last 24 games and team owner Arthur Blank isn’t happy.
“We’ll take the next couple of weeks, get through the bye, to evaluate where we are, and whatever decision we have to make, we’ll make,” Blank said after the game.
Not exactly a ringing endorsement for his head coach.
Carroll is as sympathetic as they come in the coaching ranks. In no way did he want to embarrass a respected friend and colleague. To this end, he pulled his foot off his team’s gas pedal at halftime, admitting as much in his post-game comments.
“Really, I didn't do a good enough job in the transition from first half to second half,” Carroll said. “Obviously, my guys went out there and we got knocked all over place so I got to do a better job of making sense of the situation and all that and getting them to play better.”
Translation: I didn’t want the situation to get out of hand and make things worse for my buddy Danny, so I conveyed to the team that we were going to hit cruise control.
To that end, the Seahawks essentially played prevent defense, allowing backup quarterback Matt Schaub to complete just about any pass he wanted to in the middle of the field, thereby using up the clock. On offense, Russell Wilson only attempted five passes in the second half.
To the common narrative flying around on social media that the Seahawks played poorly in the second half, that’s not entirely true. Agree with it or not, the more accurate view is they simply stopped playing, on purpose.
THEY PLAY DOWN, BUT THEY ALSO PLAY UP
The idea that Carroll’s teams play down to the ability of lesser opponents has become an unfortunate trademark for the veteran coach in recent seasons. And while there is ample evidence to support that claim, one can’t deny that those same teams also tend to rise to the level of bigger games against better competition.
If this trend continues it bodes well for their playoff chances. After next Sunday’s home matchup with the erratic Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Seahawks enter a schedule gauntlet where they face four straight games against teams with a combined record of 22-9. All four of those contests (versus the 49ers, Eagles, Vikings, and Rams) are slated for prime time television. That’s Carroll’s sweet spot.
Knee-jerk fan reactions this morning proclaiming this to be an 8-8 or 9-7 football team, based solely on how the second half against the Falcons unfolded, are a simple case of short-sightedness.
AND NOW FOR THE GOOD NEWS
--The Seahawks are 6-2.
--Their two losses have come to arguably the best team in the NFC (New Orleans) and the second-best team in the AFC (Baltimore). In both games, the Seahawks turned the ball over multiple times in winnable games, something we don’t often see with this squad.
--They’ll be getting reinforcements on defense as cornerback Tre Flowers, newly-acquired safety Quandre Diggs, and valuable defensive end Quinton Jefferson could all return to the field against Tampa Bay. Safety Bradley McDougald should also be back to full strength after playing sparingly against Atlanta.
--The running game looks as dynamic as ever, with Rashaad Penny returning to full health, and to the field, as a worthy compliment to Chris Carson. Although Penny is rumored to be a potential trade target for running back-needy teams with the league’s trade deadline looming on Tuesday, he and Carson finally showed us what they can do as a tandem when used properly. Carson rushed for 90 yards and a touchdown and Penny added 55 more yards on the ground on a number of impressive runs that showed off his quickness and cutback ability.
--Whether Penny remains on the roster beyond Tuesday or not, the holes generated by the Seahawks offensive line, even after center Justin Britt had to exit the game with what appeared to be a season-ending knee injury, is a positive sign for a team that places so much value on running the ball.
--Shaquill Griffen is good - really good. Watching him establish himself as one of the better young cornerbacks in the NFL in his third year in the league has been one of the highlights of this season.
--Marquise Blair had another strong game and looks like the type of playmaker Seattle has lacked on the back end of its defense since the injury and departure of Earl Thomas last season. On back-to-back plays in the third quarter, the rookie safety delivered a vicious, yet clean hit to the back of receiver Calvin Ridley and then forced a fumble by running back Devonta Freeman on the one-yard line.
Blair has been a difference-maker the last two weeks, and those two plays proved to be monumental in Sunday’s game.
--Jadeveon Clowney continues to wreak havoc. While only credited with three tackles, he had a sack, four quarterback hits, a forced fumble, a tackle for loss, and routinely beat whichever offensive lineman was trying to block him. The Falcons did a good job of getting the ball out of Schaub’s hands quickly to minimize any further damage, and Clowney was flagged for offsides on two occasions, but it’s clear as he gets more comfortable in Seattle’s scheme that he’s as dynamic as advertised.
--Joey Hunt appears to be a capable fill-in for Britt. He’s small for a center (6-foot-2, 300 pounds) but Hunt was a player the Seahawks said they “had to have” when they took him in the sixth round of the 2016 draft. Teammates and coaches rave about his intellect and his ability to read defenses and make the line calls.
Now, he’ll get a chance to prove he can be an effective starter with Britt facing a long recovery from ACL surgery. Indeed, there was no apparent drop-off up front once Hunt replaced Britt in Atlanta. Ethan Pocic will be eligible to return from injured reserve soon and he was primarily a center at LSU, but the job is Hunt’s for now. After three years of seemingly living on the Seahawks roster bubble, he finally gets his chance to show us why the team has so much faith in his ability.
The game in Atlanta didn’t end the way anyone would've liked, but don’t get it twisted. Seattle finishes the first half of the season 6-2 and squarely in the hunt for a playoff spot. With both of their games against the undefeated 49ers still ahead on the schedule, they also still control their own path to a potential NFC West title.
So shake it off Seahawks fans, because the team almost certainly will.