BY Doug Farrar 06:31PM 10/24/2010

Seattle’s opportunism derails flailing Cardinals

Seahawks transcend red zone struggles to stand atop NFC West

Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate listens to instructions from his position coach Jerry Gray during practice at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center in Renton, WA on October 20, 2010 (Rod Mar/Seattle Seahawks)

Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll called his team’s 22-10 win over the Arizona Cardinals “interesting,” but the real point of interest is a Seattle franchise that has made over 220 transactions this season, and somehow still stands at 4-2, atop the NFC West. They’ve already matched the win total for the pathetic 4-12 season of 2008; one more victory and they’ll have matched 2009’s total as well. Full-scale changes of this magnitude don’t generally precede surprising win totals, but the Seahawks aren’t focusing on the here and now. “It’s great to get the win, and we had a lot of fun in the locker room about it, but we have so much room for improvement. Offensively, we ran the football okay; we’re getting better. We probably lost 60 or 70 yards (on penalties) in this game, maybe that’s not right, but it seemed like it on the couple of penalties on the edge that don’t need to happen.”

Carroll knows two things full well. First, that his team left at least three touchdowns on the field. Second, these are not your big brother’s Arizona Cardinals.

If anyone out there still questions the Hall of Fame credentials of one Kurt Warner, a quick glance at the post-Warner version of the Cards should put that to rest. After Warner’s retirement following the 2009 season, head coach Ken Whisenhunt was left with a grab-bag of signal callers in two different categories: underperforming veteran mediocrities (Matt Leinart, Derek Anderson) and rookies for whom, as the Doors once sang, “the future’s uncertain, and the end is always near” (John Skelton, Max Hall). Leinart played his way off the team, Anderson played his way onto the bench, and Hall, an undrafted free agent from BYU most famous for being the nephew of former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Danny White, climbed his way up from fourth on the depth chart to get his first start last week against the New Orleans Saints. Beating the world champs was a thrill, but the unfriendly confines of Seattle’s Qwest Field and a Seahawks defense more than ready for anything Hall threw at it combined to perplex Hall beyond any chance of victory.

Hall finished his game with four completions on 16 attempts for 36 yards, and interception, and a quarterback rating of 13.5 before he was pulled in the third quarter following a head hit from defensive end Chris Clemons. Seattle’s defenders deflected or defenses at least five of Hall’s passes, with rookie Walter Thurmond (who started for the injured Kelly Jennings) making his case against a team that could only complete short stuff against him. Anderson replaced Hall and started out hot, completing his first four passes and then falling apart when he was forced to play catch-up, finishing 8 of 17 for 96 yards.

Not that Seattle’s offense was that much more effective – especially in the red zone – but defense and special teams stepped up once again in ways that have been unfamiliar in recent years. Arizona fumbled four times and lost all four, and two return fumbles had the Seahawks starting drives on the Cardinals’ 11- and 16-yard lines. On those two drives, Seattle lost 17 yards on six plays, predominantly on a befuddling series of penalties that began with 11:09 left in the third quarter. Tight end Cameron Morrah was busted twice on consecutive plays by referee Jeff Triplette’s crew for holding, taking the ball from the Arizona 13-yard line to the 33. Kicker Olindo Mare, who actually made nine field goals in his game, had to be content with the fact that only five of them counted due to various penalties.

Arizona’s defense could take some credit for those stops. “We have a little something about trying not to give them six points, give them three, try to keep them out, especially in the red zone. We kind of take pride in that,” defensive tackle Alan Branch said.

But as Arizona nose tackle Bryan Robinson concluded, moral victories don’t count in the standings. “I feel just as bad as our offense feels right now … I think we gave up like 150 yards rushing today; that doesn’t sound too impressive to me. And then, Pete Carroll called off the dogs at the end – that was a classy move by him.”

“Beast Mode” did continue to a degree, with running back Marshawn Lynch continuing his physical style and finishing up with 89 yards on 24 carries and longest run of 39 yards. Lynch continued to surprise with his ability to bounce outside on zone slides, though he humorously accused this writer of “stereotyping” him with such notions.

“Why? Why would they be surprised? They made an assumption,” he said jokingly. “Why are you making me one-dimensional? No, it’s just a read, you know. If everything is clogged up inside, why not run outside? It’s just basically what the defense gives you; you’ve just got to capitalize on it.”

The biggest star of the day on offense, both literally and figuratively, was receiver Mike Williams, whose story of reclamation continues at a breakneck pace. He led all receivers on both sides with 11 catches on 16 targets for 89 yards and a touchdown in which he seemed to defy the laws of physics in the way he could adjust his body to the ball and stay on bounds in the end zone.

“On the sidelines in front of us on a back-shoulder throw; a great one,” Carroll said. “Down in close, there was another great grab with guys all over him. He played tough, he played physically, and he came through in a big way. That’s becoming a really solid aspect of our offense, and I’m really fired up for Mike.”

But of course, Mare took the day’s honors overall. Kicking is a game of mindset to a great degree, and the man who was thrown under the bus a year ago by former head coach and current broadcaster Jim Mora brought that mindset to this game.

“The good thing for us is (after all the penalties) is that you keep getting reps on that hash, so you can kind of get into a groove … I guess it’s like a quarterback throwing a lot – you get in a rhythm,” Mare said. “It’s no different for us. We get that feeling and that confidence. I just do my job and don’t worry about anybody else. We can just get it going.”

That’s a pretty good summary of a Seahawks team that continues to win improbably and unpredictably, with a seemingly ever-changing cast that requires a program at all times. The concept of “winning ugly” is a canard — in this NFL, you take wins however you can get them. Especially when you’re finding your way on a team that’s seen so few of them recently.


Comments are closed.