BY Doug Farrar 06:39PM 11/28/2010

Bashed by a real contender

Seahawks’ injured, nearly helpless offense gets outrushed by Chiefs 270-20 in mismatch of division leaders

Craig Terrill (93) and Kentwan Balmer (95) block a field goal attempt by Kansas City's Ryan Succop during Kansas City's 42-24 victory / Rod Mar, Seattle Seahawks

The Kansas City Chiefs have been an exercise in repressed offensive recognition over the last two months – they’re the juggernaut nobody’s talking about.

Unfortunately for the Seattle Seahawks, that beast busted loose in a 42-24 defensive debacle that wasn’t as close as the score indicated. The 7-4 Chiefs are teetering atop a relatively weak AFC West, but they’ve scored 285 points through 11 games and topped 20 points in each of their last four contests. The 42 Sunday was the second-most scored by an opponent Qwest Field history.

In his last seven weeks (including Sunday’s performance), quarterback Matt Cassel has accounted for 18 touchdowns and just one interception. With the 173 yards he gained against Seattle, running back Jamaal Charles has more than 1,000 yards for the season, and battery mate Thomas Jones is on pace for his own 1,000-yard mark. Receiver Dwayne Bowe decimated Seattle’s secondary – with and without Marcus Trufant, who left for a time with a leg injury – catching 13 balls for 170 yards and three touchdowns.

For the second consecutive week, the Seahawks’ defense left a big check for the team’s offense to pay. And for the second week in a row, the offense was unable to respond. That kind of loss to the Super Bowl champion Saints had an expected ring to it, but against a Kansas City defense that was missing shutdown cornerback Brandon Flowers and had been decidedly league average most of the year, there was a distressing déjà vu to what Seattle put out there.

This wasn’t the fun-and-gun of the last two weeks, when Matt Hasselbeck threw for a total of almost 700 yards and found deep targets downfield; this was more the sub-par efforts of the early Pete Carroll era, or the regrettable and forgettable 2009 efforts of a team circling the drain. Seattle was outgained, 503 yards to 288, lost the first-down battle 28-13, had one first down on the ground, converted just three of 12 third-down attempts, and had 51 offensive plays to Kansas City’s 80.

It was a whitewash from start to finish.

Ben Obomanu hauls in an 87-yard TD catch in the fourth quarter / Rod Mar, Seahawks

While the Chiefs were adjusting to life without their best defensive player in Flowers, Hasselbeck had few answers without receiver Mike Williams, his primary target this season, who missed the game with a foot injury. Though everyone spoke the party line and said that the offense was preparing as if Williams would not go, Hasselbeck said after the game that he was looking over his shoulder to a degree and hoping that Williams, who was a game-time decision, could find a way to hit the field.

“Everyone has to step their game up,” he said. “But who we are offensively has a lot to do with the kind of player he is at the weak side wide receiver position. He’s a big, strong, physical guy. Not the fastest guy, but he’s really sure-handed. He’s got a good feel for what we’re doing offensively.”

Less sure of that feel was Deon Butler, who started in Williams’ place. Miscast as a possession receiver – he’s much more this team’s deep threat – Butler was unable to spring free from short coverage, caught just two balls for nine yards, dropping as many as he caught. The offensive game plan was conservative to a fault, even in the first half, when the Seahawks were still in the game.

Receiver Brandon Stokley made the two biggest Seattle plays of the first half, with receptions of nine and 12 yards. Jeremy Bates’ game plan seemed to consist more of the short horizontal routes that Williams makes work, as opposed to the more dynamic stuff tailor-made for Butler, Ben Obomanu, and Golden Tate. Eventually, the Chiefs started squeezing Seattle’s passing game, taking advantage of timing issues he was having with the replacements on those routes.

“I think they started sitting a little bit,” he said. “Two-man (two deep safeties with man cornerback coverage underneath) gave us a bit of an issue today, and they were playing hard inside technique – grabbing with help over the top. We didn’t handle it as well as we’re capable of handling it.”

That was an understatement. Hasselbeck threw for just 62 yards in the first half, completing 10 passes in 18 attempts and putting up a 39.6 quarterback rating that he would have equaled by throwing one incompletion and calling it a day. Two late-first half fades to Butler in either side of the end zone were missed; Seattle’s offense had a “sliding doors” feel to it all day.

That Hasselbeck finished the game with more passing yards than Cassel (282 to 233) merely showed how misleading that stat can be. Seattle was playing with desperation in the second half, hit an 87-yard touchdown pass from Hasselbeck to Obomanu in the fourth quarter, and had little else to show for those numbers. Cassel was playing with great confidence in the pocket, a running game that couldn’t be stopped, and precisely the kind of big, physical target in Dwayne Bowe that Hasselbeck was missing.

“The time of possession was ridiculous,” Carroll said, referring to the Seahawks’ 18:57 total. “That goes back to third downs on both sides. It zapped the defense. (The Chiefs) did a great job of moving the ball and taking control of it. We were not where we wanted to be on the defensive side. We got knocked around, and they rushed for a ton of yards. They’ve had three or four games like that, where they’ve hit it for 250 or something like that, and they wear people out. I hate to think that we weren’t able to stop it, because we knew that they had it, and we couldn’t get enough push at the line.”

This was a common theme among Seahawks defenders after the game; the Chiefs didn’t surprise them. What Seattle got is what Seattle expected – they were just unable to stop it.

“They’re the leading rushing team in the league,” defensive tackle Craig Terrill said of the Chiefs’ specific ability to get outside with their linemen and receivers to block, creating gaps and lanes in space. “We knew that going in, and we had to bring a better game to them then we did. It’s what we saw on film — nothing fancy, just a good offensive line that plays well together.”

Seattle’s defense had a pretty decent bead on Thomas Jones for most of the game. But Jamaal Charles presented an entirely different challenge. “He’s just a very explosive runner,” Terrill said. “He’s very talented in that he can pick and choose what gap he’s going to hit, even when he’s going full speed. He’s definitely a guy you have to get penetration on, and get in the backfield. You have to press him.”

Charles’ 173 yards on 22 carries came in every conceivable fashion. Showing impressive strength and persistence for his size (5-foot-11; 199 yards), Charles got his one touchdown on a three-yard bull-through at the start of the fourth quarter, but hit other running plays of 29 and 27 yards. He moved seamlessly through the Seahawks’ vain attempts to corral him in a way that brought Tennessee Titans superback Chris Johnson to mind, and it’s safe to say he’s going to lose his underrated status pretty quickly if he keeps running like that.

As it has been for most of the year, Seattle’s running game was invisible. The entire team rushed for 20 net yards, which Cassel exceeded with his lone 23-yard scramble. It was a product of playing from behind to a degree, but witnesses to this alleged rushing attack all year know full well that those lanes aren’t generally opening up, and when they do, the backs aren’t taking advantage.

“Running the ball is super-important; it’s incredibly important,” Hasselbeck said after the game. “That’s something that has been a point of emphasis – we’re definitely talking about that and trying to get it done. I think we have the people to do it; in terms of the running backs we do for sure. I don’t have any answers, but obviously the more complete we can be offensively, the better.”

Carroll emphasized the same point very simply.”We want to be a balanced offense, but we’re not there yet.”

The Seahawks have lost first place in the division by dint of a tiebreaker to the St. Louis Rams (also 5-6), and the Carolina Panthers team they welcome to Qwest Field Sunday is far more challenging on defense that its 1-10 record would suggest.

Carroll said Williams will be monitored through the week, but the Seahawks are past the luxury of waiting for everything to line up just the way they want it. With five games left in a season that once looked so promising at 4-2, Carroll’s squad is now fighting mediocrity, and finding it a tough go with the ammunition on hand.

“We don’t ever want to come into this stadium and perform like that and let people knock us around like that,” the coach concluded.

One gets the sense that it will be a long week for those who didn’t measure up.