BY Art Thiel 08:51PM 12/30/2018

Thiel: At least the Cowboys aren’t the Cardinals

A makeshift offensive line made for a wretched day of pass protection, but the Seahawks did enough to win and get on to the serious business of the playoffs.

Michael Dickson had the first of two punts blocked by Arizona’s Dennis Gardeck. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

Football coaches and players never admit to easing up. But without question, the Seahawks, absent any substantive playoff incentive Sunday against the ever-annoying Arizona Cardinals, let down their guard.

Actually, that’s plural — guards.

Absent injured starters D.J. Fluker and J.R. Sweezy, the Seahawks descended into sub-averageness a week after the seasonal high point was reached by beating Kansas City in prime time. Fortunately for them, even a loss would not have jeopardized their 5:15 p.m. PT playoff date Saturday in Dallas against the Cowboys.

Still, they didn’t want to enter the dance with flys down, collars up and socks mismatched.

So they cleaned up sufficiently to beat the Cardinals 27-24 (box) and reach a prideful milestone — 10 regular-season wins for the sixth time in seven seasons. Years from now, the double-digit wins will be recalled, and no one will remember that each of their dyspeptic 2018 victories over the Cardinals, the worst team in the NFL, required field goals by Sebastian Janikowski when the game clock read 0:00.

The Cardinals (3-13) are the scroungy neighborhood mutt that never lets go of a pant leg. For the past three seasons, they’ve come to the Clink as big underdogs (minus-14 Sunday) and won. After they blocked a punt and recovered in the end zone for touchdown that tied the game at 21, four in a row loomed.

But the Seahawks overcame five consecutive three-and-out possessions to prevail, thanks as usual to some late heroics by Russell Wilson.

“I know there’s a lot of concerns about the way this thing came off today, about the way we played,” was how coach Pete Carroll began his post-game remarks. “But I really look at it like we stopped the streak.

“It just reminds us how hard it is to win these games, and how much we cherish every one of them.”

Particularly this year. At the end of the regular season, two broad conclusions are apparent about the Seahawks:

  • They were better than almost anyone foresaw in August;
  • They remain like most teams in the NFL, several of whom are in the playoffs — capable of spontaneous combustion.

That would include the Cowboys. Like the Seahawks, they are 10-6, and won seven of their final eight (the Seahawks won six of their final seven). But the loss was a 23-0 shocker Dec. 16 at Indianapolis (the rough equivalent, on the same day, to the Seahawks’ 26-23 OT loss at San Francisco).

Sunday, the Cowboys seemed as vulnerable as the Seahawks. Up 14-0 just shy of halftime over the woeful New York Giants (5-11), Dallas was down 35-28 with 80 seconds left before scoring a touchdown and the game-winning two-point conversion.

It’s true that the Seahawks have a win over Dallas, 24-13, but that was in Seattle’s home opener way back in the Jurassic period of September.

“That (win) doesn’t mean anything,” said LB Bobby Wagner. “Everything that happened in the regular season is over. If you come and you’re not good that day, you get beat.”

The Seahawks nearly proved his point Sunday. Because of the injuries to Sweezy (foot) and Fluker (hamstring), the Seahawks starting O-line was makeshift. George Fant made his second career start at right tackle, Germain Ifedi made his first pro career start and right guard and Ethan Pocic made his second start of the season at left guard.

The missed assignments and miscommunications were abundant and miserable.

“Poor performance,”  said LT Duane Brown.

“A terrible day pass protecting,” said Carroll.

“We worked too hard to give up (six) sacks to a three-win team,” said Ifedi.

The sacks — all on third down — tied a season high set in the second game at Chicago, the 109 net passing yards was a season low, and Wilson’s passer rating of 75.9 was barely better than overwhelmed Arizona rookie Josh Rosen’s (74.3).

But that’s where such numbers were deceiving. When it was needed most, Wilson made the day’s second-biggest offensive play — a rollout throw of 37 yards to WR Tyler Lockett to the Arizona 25-yard line with one minute left. Four plays later, Janikowski was good from 33 yards.

Puckers were unclenched from Anchorage to Medford to Missoula.

Carroll sounded somewhat optimistic that improving health would make the line play a one-week aberration. Sweezy was ordered to stay home and rest, and Carroll admitted he resisted at halftime the temptation to insert Fluker for Ifedi. By the narrowest of margins, the decisions to rest worked.

“You could see the mixing and matching caught us a little bit today,” he said. “We had trouble with the line stunts. We didn’t handle it very well.”

What was done well by Seattle was defense, even though 24 points seems a lot to give up to a bad team. But a curious flop by special teams — two blocked punts and a 45-yard punt return — allowed the Cardinals to hang around despite 198 yards of total offense. The Seahawks’ opening possession ended with an interception of Wilson on a slant pass that resembled the infamous Play That Cannot Be Unseen from the Super Bowl loss to New England.

The Cardinals scored five times on drives of 11, 27, minus-11, 0 (the block recovered in the end zone) and 38 yards. Arizona’s longest rush was 15 yards, as was its longest pass. Much in the way that the Seahawks lost to the 49ers via 148 yards in penalties, the near-defeat Sunday was prompted by sidetracks, not going off the rails.

The defense, despite missing starters FS Tedric Thompson, DE Dion Jordan and for three quarters CB Shaquill Griffin (ankle), bailed out the sputters of the offense.

“We needed (the defense) badly,” Carroll said. “Really good pressure all day long, and good coverage all day long.”

The Seahawks sacked Rosen six times, two each by DE Frank Clark and DT Jarran Reed, the latter adding two QB hits and two tackles for loss.

Despite the odd clanks in the finale, the Seahawks have made the 12-team tournament. They are not a great team, but a good one capable of beating the Cowboys, a modest 2.5-point betting favorite, on the road. And capable of self-implosion.

“Whenever we continue to play good defense and we run the ball really well,” Carroll said, we’ve got a chance to be in every game.”

And since they won’t play the Cardinals until next season, pro football life is good.

Josh Rosen was sacked six times, this one by Frank Clark. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest


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YourThoughts

  • Tim

    Really not too worried about it. AZ was playing for their coach and they brought it. We were flat and short-handed and still won. Next week begins the real season. I fully expect a convincing win at Dallas.

    • art thiel

      Possible, but Amari Cooper has been a big help. Seahawks need Thompson and Griffin at full speed.

    • Mícheál Mac Cionnaith

      Will Skip Bayless’ panties catch on fire if Dallas doesn’t win? ;)

  • Bruce McDermott

    Our special teams problems weren’t, and aren’t, limited to bad blocking for punts. The coverage teams are also not good.

    • Ron

      Special teams coach and Ethan Pocic should update their resumes.

      • art thiel

        That’s right. Make a mistake, get fired.

        • John M

          They can get in line with 8 head coaches.

          All coaches are limited in their control over their coachees, and if they don’t get results it becomes them or me. Not always fair, but what-ya-gonna-do?

        • Bruce McDermott

          No, it’s make repeated mistakes that show an inability to adjust, and THEN get fired.

    • art thiel

      Dissly, Hill, Pocic, Fant and others who should be on teams are starting or playing a lot. That’s where injuries do largely hidden damage.

  • Kristafarian

    “If you cone and you’re not good that day, you get beat.”

    Exactly. NO coning!

    • art thiel

      You cone all this way, and that’s all you got?

      Fixed.

    • kristafarian important

  • Diamond Mask

    I think that I would take Pete Carroll over Jason “Jerry Jones” Garrett any day of the week. Same goes for Russell Wilson over Dak Prescott. I love the playoffs and as Ringo says in Tombstone “Allright lunger, let’s do it.”

    Go Hawks!

    • art thiel

      But would you take “Dallas” over “Frasier”?

  • ll9956

    “Puckers were unclenched from Anchorage to Medford to Missoula.” Priceless. Also the comparison to “the infamous Play That Cannot Be Unseen from the Super Bowl loss to New England”.

    One of the few positives was the Hawks were only penalized once for 10 yards. Astounding! Otherwise the disasters have been well-documented. Overall one of the ugliest wins I can remember.

    • art thiel

      I think there’s been worse, many of them vs. AZ.

      Thanks for noticing.

    • Husky73

      Worst penalty call of the day was the phantom defensive holding against AZ. That was a major break for the Seahawks.

  • Matt712

    Seahawks special teams is their biggest liability. It has been in continual decline for several seasons. Indeed, without Michael Dickson, it’s one of the bottom units in the league. Arizona attacked this weakness. Expect everyone else forthcoming to do the same. Is Brian Schneider John’s dad? Foster dad? Cousin? Drunk uncle?

  • Husky73

    10 wins. I’ve just eaten my hat, with some fava beans and a nice chianti.

    • Mícheál Mac Cionnaith

      Nice tip ‘o the cap to Hannibal Lecter in “Silence of the Lambs”.

  • DJ

    Thanks Art! I was really looking forward to your take – still streaming doing the middle of sleep Euro thing and missed the overall Geist.

    Championship teams don’t let down their guard, nor play down – they push through and roll over. The Hawks have a way to go. The playoffs should be productive though, because off the Hawks’ ability to play up, as long as they take each team as seriously as they did the Chiefs (early win over the Cowboys needs to be respected for what it was). That, being fully healthy and playing the team leaders will no doubt give this young team their best chances and will be very entertaining.
    I’ll go with glass half full – GO HAWKS!!

    ….. and Happy New Year!

  • Kevin Lynch

    Excellent wrap-up, Art! I personally would let the 4 games against S.F. and Arizona go without overmuch examination. Those two were minus 293 in total points this year, and the Hawks just plus 30 in their games against them. But Seattle can and will ‘play up’, as someone suggested. The big issue is 3-11, their all-time road record in the playoffs. They have gone 35 years without a landmark road win away from home in post season. See Danny O’Neill’s Times column from some years ago on the win against Marino and company. Their two other wins were against Minnesota when the Vikes kicker missed a gimme field goal and against Washington when the QB broke his leg. Not to overuse the Jackyl and Hide metaphor but they better come out like a group of Jackyl’s on edge Sunday or it’s their Hide. Dallas was 7-1 at home this year. Hawks 24, Dallas 16.

  • Kirkland

    Arizona has been subjectively worse than the Seahawks for the last several years, and yet they have a habit of winning in Seattle. Inexplicable how hexes like this happen.

    That said, should John Schneider get some love for Executive of the Year? The Seahawks were supposed to be 5-11 and rebuilding, yet they ended up with 10 wins and a wild card. Even more surprising with the overnight loss of the Legion of Boom.

    • Ron

      The surprising thing about the season was the easy schedule. Who would have guessed that the Packers, Vikings, and Panthers would collapse into down years? Then there were five games against the three worst teams in the league who combined to go 11-37 (SF, Oak, AZ).

  • Husky73

    Happy New Year, Art. Thank you for a stimulating 2018. Wishing you and yours the best in 2019. Same to all of the roomies.