BY Art Thiel 08:03PM 11/26/2017

Thiel: Pre-season done for Seahawks; Eagles up

Needed Sunday by the Seahawks were visible signs of improvement by the re-made secondary and the offensive line. They made it so, as well scoring a win over the forlorn 49ers.

Eddie Lacy gained 46 yards in 17 carries Sunday. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

Given the 49ers record, now 1-10, it is tempting to regard the Seahawks’ 24-13 win Sunday as more or less an exhibition game, in which neither good plays nor bad plays are weighty because of the caliber of the opposition. While it is partly true, the larger point is that the Seahawks late in the season are breaking in a more-or-less new secondary and a new offensive line, and neither unit spit up.

A modest feat, to be sure, but necessary to have a shred of hope for Sunday night at home against the team with the NFL’s best record, the 10-1 Philadelphia Eagles.

The O-line began the game at damp, windy Levi’s Stadium deploying Luke Joeckel at left guard for the first time in five weeks. It was his first chance to play alongside Duane Brown, the highly regarded veteran left tackle for whom the Seahawks gave up serious treasure to acquire. Joeckel’s temporary replacement, rookie Ethan Pocic, moved to right guard as the emergency fill-in for Oday Aboushi, out with a separated shoulder.

The shuffled lineup didn’t plow the 49ers into the soggy sod, but did manage 90 rushing yards on 30 carries. More noteworthy were two other deeds: No sacks of QB Russell Wilson and no holding penalties.

“I felt like we got something going here,” said coach Pete Carroll, wizard of the half-full glass. “It’s time. We’ve been waiting. I hope we can build on that.”

RB Eddie Lacy started and managed 46 yards on 17 carries, and three catches for 15 yards. RB J.D. McKissic had 22 on four runs, and four receptions for 24 yards.

Meager sums by NFL standards, but given the personnel mess on offense, they represent progress.

“Eddie ran hard and tough — I liked it,” Carroll said. “First time we’ve had to feel Eddie throughout a game. He’s got a presence about him because he’s such a load.

“He gives us a dimension we can play off of to go forward. He showed that today. The contrast with McKissic, who’s so quick and explosive, is a nice mix.”

Expected to return Sunday from injury is RB Mike Davis. But Thomas Rawls, who was active Sunday, had no carries, despite Carroll’s raised expectations fof him during the week.

Considering that Brown and Joeckel didn’t practice together during the week, owing to sprained ankle that kept Brown sidelined, it was something a coach could admire, even if fans might not.

“I was really excited about that,” Carroll said. “Duane couldn’t practice all week, and Luke’s coming back for the first time. These guys stuck it out all week and did a really good job. They all seemed to come out OK, so maybe we can take a step forward.”

The Seahawks need enough of a threat on the ground to make the play-action part of the playbook work. Even though first-half production was miserable, Carroll put that off to four dropped passes that killed drives.

The poor start “was more about the drops, which were very uncharacteristic for us,” he said. “Other than that, I think we would have a really solid game with continuity.”

On defense, a secondary missing stalwarts CB Richard Sherman and SS Kam Chancellor, as well as rookie prodigy CB Shaquill Griffin (concussion), nevertheless kept the 49ers out of the end zone again, except for a last-play TD at 00:00 that meant nothing.

The Seahawks started Bradley McDougald at strong safety, and at the corners were Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane, the latter with a sore knee injured late in the week.

Granted, they were up against a rookie QB in C.J. Beathard, but the defense led by LB Bobby Wagner — if he isn’t a leading candidate for Defensive Player of the Year, the NFL will need to be hauled before Congress — was much better than in the teams’ first meeting when everyone was healthy.

That 12-9 Seattle victory at the Clink featured 124 yards in 15 carries by RB Carlos Hyde, who this time carried 16 times for 47, with a long of 14.

Wagner, who reached 100 career tackles for the fifth year in a row, supplied the afternoon’s turning point in the first minute of the second quarter. At the 49ers’ 16-yard line, he simultaneously tackled WR Trent Taylor and wrestled away the bobbling ball for an interception.

“I figured I might as well take it from him,” Wagner said, “since he didn’t seem to want it.”

For a guy who sat out the week of practice with a sore hamstring, Wagner delivered, setting up a short field for a rushing TD by Wilson two plays later for a 7-0 lead.

“I don’t know how the heck it happened, but it was an extraordinary play,” Carroll said. “Really heads-up.”

The defensive line benefited by a return to health of several players that helped restore the rotation Carroll so craves.

“We had a bunch of guys active today — big rotation,” he said. “The run defense was excellent all day long. That’s the kind of consistency we hope to get.

“We mix those guys in to keep them fresh and fast.”

Replicating that pass-rush pressure for the rest of the season is the only way to manage the absences of Sherman, Chancellor and DE Cliff Avril. Beating the 49ers with it for the ninth time in a row just proved the template.

Harshness awaits in the next four weeks with the Eagles, Jaguars (7-4), Rams (8-3) Cowboys (5-6 with star RB Ezekiel Elliott returning Christmas Eve) eager to take advantage of a Seahawks team diminished by injuries and youth.

Exhibition season is over. Big-boy ball beckons.


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YourThoughts

  • 1coolguy

    If this 1st half wasn’t a condemnation of Bevell, I don’t know what it was.
    You would have thought we were up against the Hawks’ D. Uninspired, lacking imagination and predictable.

    • art thiel

      Bevell and Carroll call a cautious game at the start, especially on the road so their own mistakes don’t cause a flawed offense to fall behind and have to play catch-up in potentially bad weather. In the second half, with no wind, they let it rip,

      How many games do you and most Seahawks fans have to watch before the strategy becomes clear?

      • Chris Alexander

        I think the strategy is clear (and even makes sense); still hard to watch sometimes. I completely agree with Pete though – 4 more catches in the first half (i.e. zero drops) and it’s a very different game.

        And don’t even get me started on the pick play that wasn’t a pick (and the facemask penalty that should have been called on that play and wasn’t). What should have been 1st and 10 on the 40 was instead 3rd and 15 deep in our end of the field.

        • art thiel

          I think you self-started.

      • Sonics79

        Anybody notice them running a slant, 2nd & goal at the one? Jimmy handled that a little better than the thing we don’t talk about.

        • art thiel

          i’ve always said: The call of a pass play was all right. The choice of route (pick-play slant into traffic) and player (Lockette) were wrong.

          • Sonics79

            Yeah, they cleared out for Jimmy on this one. But sshhhh, we don’t talk about the other one.

  • ss

    Only 6 penalties for 35 yards is reason for some, albeit small, celebration. Third and 4 or 5 remain a challenge for this offense.

    • art thiel

      A settling of the O-line will count for a lot. Not sure one week is enough, but it is tangible progress.

  • Bruce McDermott

    We still can’t run the ball with our number 1 back. 2.7 yards per carry is NOT “getting somewhere” in any universe other than one in which we WERE getting even less than that, and neither universe is acceptable.

    Those wide zone runs to the left side–supposedly our stronger side–were just embarrassing. Pete has got to know that.

    I suppose the one benefit to all of this is that now we have big money, and high draft choices, all across the line. Assuming that those are reasonable proxies for talent, if we STILL struggle to run, then coaching simply has to start figuring. And the emperor’s nudity will finally be acknowledged, if only reluctantly and obliquely.

    • art thiel

      Game to game, things can improve, as Carroll establishes every December. First game together for Brown/Joeckel. A fairly large deal. Mike Davis, easily their best back, returns,

      The zone lateral runs are part of the overall plan to keep defenses honest. If the strategy didn’t work to throw off a defense’s timing, Wilson would never have the freedom he has in the fourth quarter.

      Here’s a hard thing for fans to grasp: Every play doesn’t have to work in order to have value in an offensive scheme.

      • Chris Alexander

        Agreed. It’s frustrating to watch run after run get stopped for little or no gain but they do serve a purpose. It’s the same thing as throwing deep even if you don’t complete the pass; you force the defense to cover every inch of the field on virtually every play.

        And, as Art pointed out, this was the first game with Brown and Joeckel on the field together and Brown didn’t practice at all during the week so the first snap was literally their first play together – ever. And they did a pretty respectable job.

        Also lost in the story of this game was the relative lack of penalties for the Hawks. They only got called for half a dozen (?) infractions and one of them was the BS “pick” call on McKissick on the same play that the refs didn’t call a facemask penalty on the defender.

        Overall, it was a solid game on both sides of the ball. Even if the O was hard to watch in the first half.

        • art thiel

          No sacks, only 35 yards in pens, and only one wind-slowed pick. Small triumphs.

      • John M

        Yes, Art, I do understand that and watch for the logic of setups. But it is frustrating when the presumed money play is called and RW is running for his life because the call is so easily read by the D and in that mode he can’t always find the open receiver. And I don’t understand why more double crossing routes aren’t used – barely legal picks if you will – that other teams seem to use so successfully against us . . .

        • art thiel

          My question was why not more screen passes? It’s a great alternative when they can’t run the ball.

          Lo and behold, they tried them the past two games with some success.

          • John M

            Yes, that’s true. Their fail rate for that has been high in the past and I’ve wondered why. Thanks . . .

  • mrRef63

    The Hawks continue to be a 1st half frustration! In fact, they were pathetic!
    However, the 2nd half was much better as the run game was not great but better and showed improvement albeit against a poor team. Wilson did what he needed to do to keep the Hawks going. Davis should be back next week as the Hawks will need to be as healthy as possible against a terrific Philly team!
    I agree with Art that now it’s BIG BOY TIME!

    • art thiel

      As I wrote, they made progress with their revamped secondary and O-line. Not a killer difference but legitimacy is easily within reach.

  • Kevin Lynch

    Lookout, blues boys, a mean green machine is headed your way. Tidal wave!! RUN!!!!!!

    Maybe not that bad. But do not expect 3.0 yards per carry this Sunday. More like the 2.0 to 2.5 variety unless Russell gets loose. I’m thinking three or four sacks are likely. Can’t afford many drops or penalties. And then, if you pull it off on offense and score 20 points your defense gets to deal with Wentz and the Philly offense. Only one way the Hawks win Sunday night. Turnovers. Three or more. With only two turnovers you are needing a game breaking kick return. This is looking like one for the L column.

    • art thiel

      Bookies agree. Seahawks four-point ‘dogs at home. Just where they like to be.

  • Effzee

    The Eagles likely won’t go 15-1. The Seahawks likely won’t go without beating a good team. This has the makings of one of those “What the…. How the…. Where did that come from?” Seahawks victories.

    • art thiel

      Entirely plausible. See Seattle’s December record.

  • “Big-boy ball beckons”
    Alliterative abilities awesome, available, and assuredly acceptable.

    • art thiel

      I bow in your direction.

  • As long as Russell Wilson is in the game, I’ll put my money on the ‘Hawks against anybody. He’s got one of the most underrated receiving corps in the game, and the little fart just keeps frustrating defenses.

    • art thiel

      It would be nice for him if he had a running back good for five on first down. He gets even better then.

      • Maybe a couple of the “new” guys will give us a Hutch & Jones reprise and somebody will break out. It’s Beast Mode withdrawal, methinks. The team hasn’t yet figured out that they”re going to have to find a way to make mere mortals get the job done.

  • Chris Alexander

    Three (fairly long) thoughts, all slightly related, insomuch as they (mostly) apply to the Eagles and the Seahawks.

    1. Wentz is arguably the frontrunner for MVP at this point, mainly because of the Eagles’ gaudy record but also because he’s having a solid year (#3 in QBR, #2 in Points Added, #4 in Quarterback Rating, #11 in Passing Yards, #1 in Touchdowns, and #2 in regards to TD:INT ratio – Brady’s 26:3 beats Wentz’s 28:5). That said, I would argue that another QB in Philly’s system would have a similar record at this point in the season because Wentz isn’t having to put the team on his back to earn a W each week. Their offense is #1 in Points per game and their offense is #3 overall, but that’s in large part because their running game is #2 in the league whereas their passing game is #15. Add in the fact that their defense is ranked #6 overall and is #1 in rushing defense, and #3 in Points Allowed PLUS the fact that their schedule has been “exceedingly kind” and you have reason to doubt whether Wentz is really an MVP versus simply being the most visible player on the team with the league’s best record 2/3 of the way through the season.

    Russell Wilson is responsible for ~82% of his team’s offensive production and is currently tied for #3 in the league in passing yards and is the #2 QB running the ball (63 yards behind Cam Newton). The Seahawks have a disappointing 7-4 record so Russell isn’t the frontrunner like Wentz is. But he shouldn’t be because, honestly, I think it’s hard to argue that either of them is the MVP when you look at what’s happening in Dallas and see the offensive CLIFF that the Cowboys dove off of when Ezekiel Elliot started serving his suspension.

    Which brings me to my second point …

    2. Who have the Eagles beat? They lost to the Chiefs when the Chiefs were hot. But other than the Chiefs, they’ve only played one team that currently has a winning record – Carolina, currently 8-3. Their other wins were against the 5-6 Redskins (twice), the 2-9 Giants, the 5-6 Chargers, the 5-6 Cardinals, the 1-10 49’ers, the 3-7 Broncos, and the 3-8 Bears.

    Not saying the Seahawks have more “quality wins” (hate that phrase, btw). Their 7 W’s have come against the 1-10 49’ers (twice), the 3-8 Colts, the 8-3 Rams, the 2-9 Giants, the 4-6 Texans, and the 5-6 Cardinals while their losses have been to the 5-6 Packers, the 7-4 Titans, the 5-6 Redskins, and the 7-4 Falcons.

    So, overall, both teams have beaten one 8-3 team and a bunch of other teams they should have beaten (based on current records). The Seahawks have played more teams with winning records though and they’ve also faced teams that were better at the time than their current record indicates (i.e Aaron Rodgers and DeShawn Watson were in peak form when we faced the Packers and Texans and their teams have plummeted in the standings after each was injured). By comparison, the Eagles faced the Cowboys while Elliott was suspended, knocked off the Broncos in the midst of Denver’s 7-game losing streak, and dispatched a Bears team this past weekend that has now lost 4 in a row.

    It’s always a pointless exercise to play the “woulda shoulda coulda” game but 3 missed FGs against Washington and another missed FG + a slightly-confounding fake FG against Atlanta arguably cost the Hawks 2 W’s and with those 2 W’s we’d be looking at a 10-1 team facing a 9-2 team on Sunday night and the point spread might not be in the Eagles’ favor if that were the case. Especially given Seattle’s December record under Pete Carroll. And their primetime record under Pete as well.

    3. If Washington beats Dallas this week, which they should, then Philadelphia clinches the NFC East title. Not saying that Philly will rest any players against the Seahawks or alter their game plan as a result but it’s not a stretch to think that there may be a subconscious effect on some of their players. And with the Washington v. Dallas game being played on Thursday, the Washington players will have almost 3 full days to “celebrate” before taking the field on Sunday night. Again, I’m not saying that will have an effect on the game; just saying that athletes are people too and you never know where someone’s head is going to be at any given time.