Cigar Thoughts: Seahawks avoid starting 3-0

New Orleans Saints v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Seattle played like dumb idiots in the first half and like heroes in the second but it was not enough to beat a Brees-less Saints team.

There was a lot of excitement for the Seattle Seahawks coming into this big NFC showdown against the New Orleans Saints. Not only had they slithered out of two close games to start 2-0, they inherited a Week 3 matchup against a Saints team that was missing their Hall of Fame quarterback.

With a game against the hapless Cardinals next week, it was looking like everything was gonna come up Milhouse for this team in the season’s opening month.

Seattle started the game with the ball and, as has become their M.O., began the game with a penalty on the first play. They immediately reverted to their white flag offense and facing 1st & 20, they went to a quick TE dump-off for 5, a draw play for 2, and a toothless RB screen for -2. That led to booming punt from Dickson that was nullified by a false start. So instead, his second attempt wasn’t nearly as good and the Saints’ electrifying return man Deonte Harris effortlessly weaved through Seattle tacklers for an easy 53-yard TD.

Yes, I know that Seattle does this whole rope-a-dope thing and wants to “establish their identity” early but honestly all it amounts to is spotting their opponents the first quarter almost every week. Seattle has been objectively the worst offense in the NFL during the scripted portion of the game (the first 15 plays) and their success later in games is in spite of their early ineptitude, not because of it. I mean, thank God for Russell Wilson, cuz this 1980s approach is like trying to run with your shoelaces tied together.

Seattle got the ball back, as one does after allowing a score, and actually managed to move the ball a little bit. After two runs predictably left them facing 3rd & 9, Wilson dialed up (welcome back) David Moore for 29 big yards across midfield and for a brief wondrous moment, it appeared that Seattle might at least put a dent in New Orleans’ early lead. Sadly, from there it was more of the same: incompletion on first down, another indefensible, inexplicably dumb run on 2nd & 10 that went for -4, which was followed by Wilson breaking the pocket to scramble for 10 to make it 4th & 4 on the Saints’ 39. Instead of going for it (best option), or attempting the long field goal, the ‘Hawks elected to punt again and that was that.

For the first time in like 100 years, the Saints offense took the field to start the game with someone other than Drew Brees under center. Teddy Bridgewater, the league’s highest-paid backup QB, started near his own goal line with his back to one of the rowdiest sections of crowd in the NFL. The cacophony clearly affected them, as they committed two procedural penalties of their own and eventually punted after a three-and-out.

Seattle’s third drive finally looked the way we all should want it to. A quick pass to Tyler Lockett for 3 yards brought up another 2nd & long, and Brian Schottenheimer greedily dialed up another short run. Facing 3rd & 5, Russell Wilson finally found himself with permission to be Russell Wilson. Working his way up and through the pocket, he saw Lockett matriculating his way through the third level of the defense. Wilson stepped into a safe space in the moving pocket and unleashed a laser to his diminutive WR. The throw hit Lockett in stride the way it usually does when you take the reigns off a top-five QB, and the Seahawks moved the chains with a huge 32 yard gain.

On the next play, Chris Carson gashed the middle of the defense for 16 yards and the Seahawks were officially rolling. Then it was Carson for 3 more to New Orleans’ 8, setting up Seattle’s first scoring play. Taking the snap on 2nd & 7 Wilson dropped back and surveyed the field before drifting to his right. In an instant, he found what he was looking for and zipped the ball to Locket in the back right corner of the endzone. The replay showed something that was pretty remarkable. Despite lining up inside the opponent’s 10, Lockett somehow broke off a double-move to get loose behind coverage. You almost never see those types of routes that close to the goal line but Lockett is only half the size of normal people and thus was able to pull it off in half the space.

The Saints would commit a bunch more penalties then punt, and Seattle would get a few yards before punting it back. Then the Saints got a few yards and punted it back as both offenses settled into a comfortable numbness for most of the rest of the first half. The next play of consequence would come when Carson slipped around the right edge and sprinted upfield for a huge gain before being wrapped up by a couple of defenders. As he crashed to the turf, however, the ball was punched out of his grip from behind.

The ball squibbed around on the wet turf for a second before being scooped up by Vonn Bell who returned it for New Orleans’ second non-offensive touchdown of the game. It was Carson’s 3.5th fumble in the season’s first 10 quarters and we’ve officially reached high-alert for whether or not he can be trusted to be the high-volume runner he was last year. There’s no question he’s the most complete back on the roster but without ball security, you can’t lean on him the way the coaches so obviously want to. Whatever- anything that puts fewer plays in the hands of our running backs and more into the hands of our all-world QB is a long-term net positive. Fortunately, the Saints missed the extra point but Seattle found themselves down 13-7 despite a phenomenal effort from their defense.

Seattle’s next drive saw two first downs thanks to Wilson scrambles before finding themselves facing 4th & 1 at the Saints’ 41. This time they decided to go for it (yay!) but did so by running Carson head-first into an eight-man box behind a bad line (boo!). The Saints stood him up at the line of scrimmage to force the turnover and set up New Orleans’ best drive of the half. Leaning heavily on Alvin Tamara, and finally remembering that Michael Thomas is on their team, Bridgewater and Co pushed the ball all the way to Seattle’s 29 with less than a minute left. That’s when the Saints called their favorite play.

Bridgewater dropped back as the Saints OL all pretended to whiff their blocks. With Seattle’s entire DL joyously closing in on on Teddy, the QB flipped it over their heads to Kamara with a wave of blockers in front of him. At the point the remainder of the play was academic. There was no stopping the ball carrier at that point and Kamara sashayed into the endzone to make it 20-7.

That gave Seattle just over 30 seconds and 2 timeouts to do something about it before kicking back to the Saints to start the second half. A short completion kept the clock running and instead of using one of their 2 timeouts, Seattle brainlessly tried a hurry-up play from their own 30. The result of said play was a monstrous, towering 54-yard completion to DK Metclaf, who Optimus Primed his way over the top of two defenders for the most impressive reception of the Seahawks season. It put the Seahawks at the Saints’ 16 yard line but it also put the clock at :00 with 2 timeouts left. A stupid ending to a stupid half of football.

The second half started the way the Saints wished the first one did. They came out and hit the Seahawks right in their faces, marching down the field on a 12-play, 75-yard TD drive that culminated with a screen pass to Michael Thomas on a backbreaking 4th& goal to make it 27-7. Just crisp execution of effective playcalling- nothing more to it than that. Seattle’s answer was to pick up a couple first downs before Wilson short-armed a 3rd down pass forcing another punt. That brought out Dickson who, despite setting the punting world on fire last year, has inexplicably struggled so far this season and this kick was no exception. Only traveling 39 yards, his mishit was actually a blessing in disguise for Seattle, as it brought Harris sprinting into traffic to try and catch it.

The ball bounced off his rain-soaked hands and hit the ground where it was recovered by Cody Barton. It was a particularly meaningful contribution for Barton, considering he further broke Pete Carroll’s already Picasso-esque nose with a pregame throw off the schnozz. It was the break Seattle desperately needed (the play, not the nose) and after being assessed a 15-yard penalty for being too happy about it, the ‘Hawks retook the field.

A series of quick passes and a couple nowhere runs had Seattle facing a 4th & 5 from the Saints’ 13 and just one play away from throwing the game back into balance. On that play, Russ bought the time necessary to let the play develop, and that mean letting Lockett wiggle free in the endzone again.

It had all the hallmarks of a classic Seahawks comeback play but Wilson, who had completed 14 of his first 15 passes, straight up missed. Lockett had gotten plenty open with lots of space between him and the dueling. It was a throw most NFL quarterbacks make most of the time and one that Wilson makes every time. Except this one. His pass sailed a little too far and Lockett’s diving one-handed attempt wasn’t quite enough to salvage it.

That kept the game 27-7 with a quarter to play and things officially began to look bleak. The Seahawks defense, which often gets overlooked in these comeback attempts, refused to give up however, and forced another New Orleans punt. That led to a gorgeous 10-play, 78-yard TD drive that included multiple plays from Russ on the move. It’s amazing how much the field opens up when your best player has room to operate and Wilson was not shy about exploiting it. On that possession, Wilson went 4-7 for 61 yards including a slick 21-yarder to CJ Prosise(!) on 4th & 3. It culminated with Russ keeping it on a read-option, something he did very effectively today, for a 2-yard score to drag the ‘Hawks back into the game.

That would be as close as they got, unfortunately. Despite another defensive stop, the Seahawks would be unable to capitalize. This particular drive would end on another 4th down attempt, this time a 4th & 1 from deep in their own territory. It was a decision forced upon them by their first half ineptitude but I applaud them for being willing to risk it. On this particular 4th down, Wilson faked a handoff and dropped back to look deep. It’s a play we’ve seen be successful so many times from RW that I’ve almost come to take it for granted. But, just like the open miss on the Lockett play in the endzone, Wilson’s throw was a touch too far and all that remained was for the inevitable Kamara TD to put a bow on an old-fashioned butt whoopin’.

The Seahawks would add on two scores late to make this game look a lot closer than it actually was but all in all this was just a bad performance from a team that had barely beaten what will probably end up being two pretty bad teams. Are the Seahawks good? It’s too early to say one way or the other, but I’m pretty comfortable saying that as long as they insist on starting games like this, they are objectively worse than the teams who will be contending for the Super Bowl.

SMOKE RINGS

~ I know I’ve harped on playcalling a lot so far this season but omitting it the criticism would be dishonest. And sure, some of you will say “oh, being an offensive coordinator must be sooo easy, jacson” and look, I get it. But to dismiss Seattle’s *chronic* early-game ineffectiveness is willful ignorance and no harkening back to the halcyon “glory days” of old football is gonna change the fact that Seattle is hurting themselves with playcalling.

In fact, once the game got to 27-7, I honestly started rooting for a blowout to shock the coaching staff out off the stale insistence on “identity” that continually puts an otherwise good team in a bad position. But then I remembered that at this point, there’s no reason to think a switch is coming and that Wilson would probably do just enough to convince the coaches that they were “just a couple plays away.” The problem with that approach is that it removes the culpability from what put Seattle in a bad way in the first place. I just don’t know how you watch what Wilson did last week (lots of passes early, quick throws) and then revert to this silliness the very next week.

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~ Russell Wilson missed some big throws today. That absolutely can’t be overlooked and had he hit Lockett in the endzone or not short-armed a couple of 3rd down passes, he may very well have snatched the team’s ass from the fire like he has so many times before. That being said, he was pretty damn awesome today. He accounted for 457 yards and 4 TDs against an excellent defense. His first half was remarkable (19 touches for 196 yards and a TD) but his second half was a got damn fireworks show. 38 touches for 261 yards and 3 TDs. Remind me again why they always wait until they’re down multiple scores to let this guy take over?

~ Lost in all the arguments about whether Seattle should establish the run or not is the fact that Seattle has been bad at running the ball this year! Not only have they been generally ineffective on a per-play basis (67 handoffs for 281 yards for a 4.2 yard average), they’ve turned it over 5 times on the ground with just 2 TDs! Compare that to nearly 9 yards per pass play with 7 TDs and no turnovers and there’s just no ammunition left in the gun for the run-it-more-than-you-pass crowd.

~ So where did all of Russ yards go? Two words: Tyler motherfucking Lockett. Lockett turned in the best game of his career today and was that errant Wilson throw away from blowing the doors off of it. He finished with a career-high 11 catches on a career-high 14 targets for a career-high 154 yards and a touchdown. He confounded the Saints secondary all day long and it was his second consecutive game with double-digit catches. Tyler Lockett is officially a force and assuming his insane efficiency keeps pace with the increased volume (it has so far), it’s gonna be time to start talking about him among the league’s elite WRs.

~ DK Metcalf was quieter today, recording just two catches on 6 targets. In many ways DK is the anti-Lockett, and that’s totally fine. For every incredible contested catch he makes, there’s gonna be one where he doesn’t. And Wilson is gonna intentionally miss him to the sidelines a lot too, which we’ve seen already. Metcalf’s targets are just low-efficiency ones and he’s also still pretty green. Counter-acting the low efficiency of his opportunities, however, is their high leverage. Metcalf now has 9 catches for 217 yards on 19 targets and while the completion percentage (44.6%) isn’t awesome, the per-target average (10.7) is. Put together, Lockett and Metcalf have all the makings of a tremendous receiving combination.

~ Will Dissly just keeps making plays. He caught 6 of his 7 targets for 62 yards and another TD today. He has now caught 12 of 14 passes thrown his way for 129 yards and 3 touchdowns. Hell yeah.

~ I think the OL was actually pretty good today. Zero sacks on 55 drop backs and while yes, Russ had to get out of a few harrowing situations, they kept him pretty clean this afternoon. Most of the hits he did take were after hanging onto the ball for a while so those are bound to happen. Seattle hasn’t run block very well this year but the job they did in the pass game was pretty impressive in this one. Here’s hoping they’re able to build on it.

~ It’s been a while since we’ve seen the Seahawks tackle as poorly as they did today. I’m not ready to make a big thing out of it yet because A) Alvin Tamara might be the hardest human being to tackle on earth and B) it was completely out of character for this team. They were extremely good in the first half but just couldn’t get the stops late that they ultimately needed. They were also unable to generate much pressure (0 sacks) or create any turnovers (fumbled punt aside). They did what they could to keep it close while the offense picked around in the first half but really could’ve used a couple more big plays.

Hey, the Seahawks are 2-1 after three close games and I mean, sure. That’s better than 1-2 or 0-3 but this is also a franchise whose expectations are now to make deep playoff runs and it’s hard to imagine that from these guys right now. the good news is that they do this every year! Which is actually bad news! But it’s good news that they end up turning it around later in the season almost without exception!

I’m still taking the long view on this team and the long view definitely includes the possibility of the playoffs. This is a team with a bunch of good players and an incredible quarterback and that combination has typically served NFL teams pretty well. It’s tempting to look around the league at the teams universally considered to be contenders and lust after the clear advantage they give their players in terms of playcalling, but it’s important to also look at the team laying next to you in bed and remember all the reasons they’ve given you to love them. Even if they don’t rinse the dishes and fart on you in their sleep.

This team will probably be fine. It just sucks to see stubbornness and general boneheadedness get in the way of an otherwise winnable game. Here’s hoping the next six days lead to some honest self-assessment with regards to what makes this team good and what makes this team bad, and that we see a lot more of the former moving forward. Until then, onward and upwards my friends.

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Arguably my favorite cigar label is Davidoff and today I treated myself to their Winston Churchill “The Late Hour” Robusto. This was one of those cigars you wish would never end, and I tried to smoke it slowly as a result. I originally poured some Makers 46 to go with it and, while love that stuff, it didn’t do this stick justice. The audible was to the Laphroiag Triple Wood, and it provided enough punch to create a perfect balance.

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The 2019 season of Cigar Thoughts is also proud to be sponsored by Fairhaven Floors and Brandon Nelson Partners.