Seahawks Win Might Be A Harbinger

The Seattle Seahawks defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers yesterday in a game that appeared to be going the way of all Seahawks losses this season. That the Seahawks did not lose might be a harbinger that the 2015 season is not a lost cause after all.

In Seattle’s five losses, they led at some point in the fourth quarter. The team had secondary miscommunication issues in those games and the offense could not seem to pick up a first down when needed. Yesterday, the secondary, even though the defense gave up 456 yards passing to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, was better than it has been. If there had been communication issues, Roethlisberger would have thrown for 600 yards and more than one touchdown. In fact, Roethlisberger’s QBR was 82.1 (or 65 points less than Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson). He threw two interceptions. There were several reasons he threw for as many yards as he did: 1) he is a talented quarterback with talented skill personnel; 2) he passed 55 times; and 3) the Steelers had a scheme designed to throw underneath.

For quite some time during the game, the Steelers had not completed a pass to a wide receiver. The passes were going mainly to running back DeAngelo Williams and tight end Heath Miller (Miller missed the second half with an injury, and that definitely hurt the Steelers). Eventually Roethlisberger did execute throws to the wideouts, but the receiver who hurt the Seahawks the most was relatively-unknown Markus Wheaton (nine catches for 201 yards and a touchdown). Star receiver Antonio Brown, covered mostly by cornerback Richard Sherman and sometimes by safety Deshawn Shead, had six catches but for only 51 yards. The secondary as a whole played fairly well, considering who they were playing, but were let down at times by individuals like Marcus Burley. Still, giving up only one touchdown pass in 55 attempts is something the Seahawks can live with.

Offensively, Wilson (21 of 30 for 345 yards, five touchdown passes and no turnovers) had his best game of the year. It helped that his receivers, especially Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse, also were at their best. Kearse caught four passes, but two of those were for touchdowns. Tight end Jimmy Graham was also having a good day, including an amazing catch near the goal line, but suffered a knee injury and is now lost for the season.

But what a game Baldwin had! His third touchdown of the day came on a third-and-ten late in the fourth quarter and went for 80 yards. This was the exact same kind of play that the Seahawks could not accomplish in losses earlier in the year. Even first downs were difficult to come by in the fourth quarter in all five defeats. To watch Baldwin run down the field to basically complete Seattle’s victory was not only a great thing at that point in the game, but it also recalled the games of the last few seasons where Seattle could win late. Baldwin had six catches, the same as Pittsburgh’s Brown, but his went for 145 yards, as well as the three scores. And this was at the end of a week when it seemed Baldwin was not going to be at full-strength for the game.

It remains to be seen just how the loss of Graham will affect the Seahawks going forward. For most of the season, throwing to Graham seemed to not be working fluidly. Graham’s impressive skill set was not yet really something that fit with Seattle. Graham, who scored many touchdowns with the New Orleans Saints, only has two this season with the Seahawks. Losing a player with the talent of Graham is difficult, but he was not yet a piece the Seahawks relied on solely, at times, to win games. Plus, his blocking was poor. If anything, the running game might improve in his absence. Also, the Seahawks skill players are mostly ones Wilson has worked with for a few years; Wilson already has chemistry with the players that remain. We saw how well that can still work with Baldwin and Kearse.

The Seahawks travel to play the Minnesota Vikings this Sunday. If the season were to end today, the Seahawks would be in the playoffs. Even a loss on Sunday to a good Vikings team does not derail playoff hopes. Seattle is tied in the Wild Card standings (but would be the first team in due to conference record) with the Atlanta Falcons, but Atlanta is fading quickly having lost five of their last six games. Seattle leads everyone else by a game. The Seahawks have won four of their last five games.

After playing Minnesota, the Seahawks have a game on the road versus the Baltimore Ravens, then host the Cleveland Browns and St. Louis Rams before finishing against the Arizona Cardinals away. All of the last four games are winnable, and the ones against the Ravens and Browns should not be close. If Seattle can make it to the playoffs once again, and they now control their destiny, anything can happen.