BY Steve Rudman 06:30AM 11/03/2015

Seahawks’ defensive success has caveat

The Seahawks delivered an admirable defensive performance against the Dallas Cowboys, but they haven’t beaten an elite quarterback in the regular season in more than a year.

Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman locked down Dallas WR Dez Bryant Sunday. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

“They’ve got All-Pros all over with Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, and Earl Thomas. Those guys are great ballplayers, and they’ve been in the same system now for a while. They know what they’re trying to accomplish with their coverages, and also with that scheme in general. And they play well together.”

Dallas quarterback Matt Cassel stated the obvious when he talked last week about facing the Seattle secondary. But he likely never imagined he wouldn’t break 100 yards Sunday – especially with Dez Bryant back in the Cowboys’ lineup.

But Sherman, tracking Bryant wherever he lined up, erased him from the game, a big reason why Dallas had to settle for field goals instead touchdowns in a 13-12 loss to the Seahawks at AT&T Stadium.

Cassel targeted Bryant, back in the lineup after rehabbing a broken foot, five times with Sherman covering him. Bryant caught one ball for a 15-yard gain and a first down, but on four other targets Sherman knocked away three of them. On the second of two passes Bryant caught, Sherman dragged him down for a three-yard loss.

That left Cassel looking for other options. There weren’t any. Although he kept two drives alive with his legs, including a career-long 24-yard run, he finished 13-for-25 for 97 yards in his second start in place of Tony Romo. Deduct a six-yard coverage sack by Bruce Irvin near the end of the game, and Cassel finished with a net of 91. Only two of his passes covered as many as 15 yards.

In the Pete Carroll era, the Seahawks have held an opposing quarterback to fewer than 100 net passing yards only six times. Three occurred this season with the obvious caveat that two (Jimmy Clausen and Cassel) were backup quarterbacks, while the other came against Colin Kaepernick, now apparently benched in favor of Blaine Gabbert.

Year Date Opp. QB Yards Sacked
2012 Nov. 4 Minn Christian Ponder 44 4 times for 19 yards
2015 Sept. 27 Chic Jimmy Clausen 48 Twice for 15 yards
2015 Oct. 22 SF Colin Kaepernick 81 6 times for 43 yards
2014 Dec. 7 Phil Mark Sanchez 82 3 times for 14 yards
2011 Dec. 18 Chic Caleb Hanie 89 4 times for 34 yards
2015 Nov. 1 Dal Matt Cassel 97 Once for 6 yards (Irvin)

Cassel threw nine passes targeted at wide receivers, completing four for an anemic 32 yards. Overall, the Cowboys generated 220 yards against Sherman and the Seahawks, who held Dallas to its lowest total since a Christmas Day loss to Philadelphia in 2006, when the Cowboys finished with 201.

While Seattle’s defensive performance was impressive, the Seahawks still have not defeated an elite quarterback in the regular season (they beat a hobbling Aaron Rodgers in the NFC Championship last season) since holding off Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in overtime at the Clink Sept. 21, 2014.

Fourth-quarter comebacks

Except for his touchdown throw to TE Luke Willson in the second quarter and the 17-play, 79-yard drive that Russell Wilson orchestrated late in the fourth quarter, the Seahawk quarterback did not have a particularly good game Sunday, finishing with a sub-par passer rating of 81.3, his lowest of the season, and his lowest in any game since a 69.2 in December against San Francisco.

But the 16th fourth-quarter, game-winning drive of Wilson’s career broke a tie with Romo for the most in the NFL over the past four seasons. Andrew Luck of the Colts is third with 13.

Looking back further, this is how many game-winning drives some of best quarterbacks of the last generation had after their first four full seasons (GWDs=4th-quarter game-winning drives):

Quarterback Years GWDs Skinny
Peyton Manning 1998-02 10 Directed 6 for Indianapolis in 1999
Tom Brady 2001-04 10 Delivered 4 as a NE rookie in 2001
John Elway 1983-86 9 Had 5 for Denver Broncos in 1985
Joe Montana 1980-83 8 Produced 3 for San Francisco in 1981
Dan Marino 1983-86 8 Had 3 for Miami Dolphins in 1985
Warren Moon 1984-87 8 Ex-UW star began pro career in Canada
Jim Kelly 1987-90 8 Began professional career in USFL
Troy Aikman 1990-93 7 Posted 4 as a rookie for 1990 Cowboys
Kurt Warner 1999-03 4 Only played in 2 games in 2003
Aaron Rodgers 2008-11 3 Entered NFL in 2005, starter in 2008

Many of the listed quarterbacks, especially Brady and Rodgers, didn’t have to orchestrate many game-winning drives because their teams entered the fourth quarter with a lead. So the comparison draws no conclusion about quarterbacking ability other than Wilson’s remarkable knack for making plays with a game hanging in the balance.


YourThoughts

  • jafabian

    I’m surprised the Cowboys didn’t go to Witten more. He was targeted 4x and had 2 catches for 16 yards. With Kam still learning Kris Richard’s system the TE position can be exploited as the Panthers had shown. The question with the defense, as outstanding as they’ve been the past few games, is their depth. Can they withstand a starter missing time? Depth was an issue last season in the playoffs. Schneider needs to stock up on good draft choices like he did for the 2011-2012 drafts.

  • Lodowick

    Peyton, of course, is the all-time NFL leader in 4th quarter comebacks and will not be caught on that stat in the near future. One of his most telling statistics.

  • Bayview Herb

    What’s going on at Left Tackle? How long is he going to be out?

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  • LAViking

    “While Seattle’s defensive performance was impressive, the Seahawks still have not defeated an elite quarterback in the regular season (they beat a hobbling Aaron Rodgers in the NFC Championship last season) since holding off Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in overtime at the Clink Sept. 21, 2014″

    That’s really not much of a point. You exclude the victories over the Packers at the beginning of the season. After the Broncos game last year, the Seahawks haven’t PLAYED many “elite” QBs in the regular season. Of course, this depends on how you define “elite.” I assume Romo is elite. Are Phillip Rivers, Andy Dalton, Eli Manning and Cam Newton “elite?” Not in my book.

    If you exclude them, and you ignore the playoff win against the Packers last year, they’ve only “played” two games against “elite” QBs in that span — Romo last year and Rodgers this year. While the Cowboys win at Century Link was impressive, it had far more to do with the Cowboys line than an “elite” Romo. The Cowboys ran all over the Seahawks that day, just as the Chargers and Chiefs did earlier that year.

    Of course, they also lost to Brady in the Super Bowl last year. But, if you count that, then you need to count the win against the Pack. So, two losses isn’t all that meaningful.

    I assume you would put Big Ben in the elite category? If so, the Seahawks will get their shot in a month.