It’s not true that things always go badly for the Seahawks in the desert. Just seems that way. And now comes Arizona’s Air Raid offense vs. a suspect pass rush.
For all the bad juju that attends Seahawks games at Arizona, since Pete Carroll has been head coach, they are 6-2-1 in the Glendale House of Odd (and 0-1 in other games). For a division rival, that’s good. Although in Carroll’s time, the Cardinals have won four of nine at the Clink. So mere records don’t tell the story.
Carroll had his force field of nonchalance on blast this week when the inevitable questions came about what the deal is with the desert dungeon now called State Farm Stadium.
Careers ended there for Kam Chancellor and Cliff Avril, the 2018 season ended there for Will Dissly and Earl Thomas, there was in 2016 the dorky 6-6 tie — the lowest-scoring overtime tie in NFL history — and of course, the Game That Shall Not Be Spoken, Upon Pain of Boiled Tongue.
“We’ve been there a lot,” Carroll said, shrugging off any omens lurking ahead of Sunday’s game with the 0-2-1 Cardinals. “It seems like we’ve won there some. Honestly, it doesn’t feel any different. It’s just another place to go.”
Right. And Moe’s Tavern is just another place for Homer Simpson. No trouble there.
“Weird stuff can happen here too,” Carroll said of the Clink. “Sometimes, you can get hit right in the nose.”
But if the episode were in Glendale, Carroll would be recovering from surgery to re-attach his head.
The series is not always doomsday, but it is often harrowing. A year ago, the Seahawks, eventually a 10-6 playoff team, beat the Cardinals Sept. 30 on a last-second field goal by Sebastian Janikowski. On Dec. 30 at the Clink, the Seahawks followed up by beating the Cardinals (3-13) on a last-second field goal by Janikowski. I can’t explain it, either.
Coincidentally in the past week, the topic of GTSNBSUPBT made national football news on a couple of fronts (it’s OK to write it, just not speak it). The Super Bowl outcome in Glendale was decided on a play that made it to No. 5 on the list of NFL Network’s top 100 plays in league history.
I realize that victimization from the most disastrous play outcome in franchise history is not the preferred way for the Seahawks to reach nearly to the industry pinnacle. But scars well-earned do carry a certain nobility.
And if it makes anyone feel better besides Carroll, Patriots QB Tom Brady this week for the first time publicly defended the Seahawks’ choice to pass instead of run from second-and-goal at the New England 1-yard line.
On a weekly radio show Brady does for WEEI in Boston, he contended Carroll had no choice.
“That to me was — unfortunately everyone made a big deal of the play call and so forth,” Brady said. “Which, the reality is, in my view, they couldn’t have run the ball in that situation because of the way our defense had designed our defensive play.
“We forced them to throw it. And (CB Malcolm Butler) made, I believe, one of the greatest plays in the history of the NFL. Look, No. 5 is pretty good considering 100 years of the NFL.”
Actually, Butler made an above-average grab on a ball he was coached to expect; Brady is still slightly delirious almost five years later. What made the play great was the reversal of the pending outcome in the game’s penultimate moment on the sport’s championship stage.
In anticipation of a run by Marshawn Lynch, coach Bill Belichick installed a seven-man jumbo package of Rob Ninkovich, Chris Jones, Alan Branch, Silver Siliga, Vince Wilfork, Jamie Collins and Chandler Jones.
As I’ve written for years since, a pass against that boxcar of beef was a good option. The bad part was the choice of target and route. Sending a skinny receiver on a slant into the traffic of a pick play, instead of a fade to the corner, was no way to win a Super Bowl.
But if re-living the angst was painful for you, consider it free therapy from me and Brady. Anxiety must be confronted and dispatched. Or you can do what LB Bobby Wagner recommends.
“A lot of those things that you’re talking about are negative things,” he said this week about the annual return to the desert. “You don’t re-live negative things. You try to move on and learn something positive from it.
“I feel like people need to be more present. That’s the problem. We’re always living in the past. The unfortunate past happened.”
All true. Then again, the present is fraught with potential misfortune too.
The Seahawks defense is about to experience the NFL’s first nearly full-scale experiment with the Air Raid offense. The Cardinals’ new coach, Kliff Kingsbury, was a quarterback at Texas Tech under Mike Leach, now the Washington State coach and early proponent of throwing the ball all over the fruited plain and seeing what happens.
The spread offense features receivers lined up nearly across the width of the field, followed by short, quick passes of the sort that worked so effectively Sunday from backup QB Teddy Bridgewater in the Saints’ 33-27 upset of the Seahawks.
There’s a reason Wagner and K.J. Wright combined on 31 tackles Sunday, and the defensive line barely touched Bridgewater. The ball was coming out quickly to receivers who were catching it in linebacker country, not downfield. A lot of that is expected Sunday.
To run the Air Raid, Kingsbury has gone right away to rookie No. 1 draft choice QB Kyler Murray, with very modest results. Arizona is 24th in total offense at 328 yards a game, 15th in passing and 25th in rushing (the Seahawks are eighth in total offense at 390 yards).
Murray has been sacked 16 times, second-most in the league, in 10.4 percent of pass attempts (fourth).
A primary argument against long-term success for the Air Raid in the NFL is that at the pro level, pass rushers are too big, fast and strong. One such guy is Seahawks DT Poona Ford, the defensive player of the year two years ago at Texas in the Big 12 Conference, where versions of the Air Raid are everywhere.
“It’s very annoying,” Ford said. “It makes it hard. It’s a lot of hurry-up. We gotta be well-conditioned and keep going. They’re going to get chunk yardage because the ball comes out fast. We have to move as fast as we can, stay calm and be sure we get lined up.”
But Ford was not despairing.
“I’m pretty sure I can get there,” he said, “if we do a good job covering and make (Murray) hold it a bit longer.”
That’s always the defensive plan, which this season in Seattle includes the additions of premium pass-rushing ends Jadeveon Clowney and Ziggy Ansah. But through three games, their combined pass-rush impact for the new club has been very modest — early results akin to the Cardinals’ installation of the Air Raid offense with a rookie quarterback.
Logic and the odds (Seattle is a four-point favorite) say the Seahawks’ weakness is more quickly curable. Except that Ansah has been held out of practice this week. And the Air Raid takes getting used to.
And the location is the damnable desert dungeon, where logic, norms and customs go to die.