By Chris Cluff
An offense that runs for 182 yards. A defense that gives up under 50 yards rushing. Special teams that make a couple of big plays. A quarterback who is efficient and good at finishing drives. These are the Seattle Seahawks that Pete Carroll envisioned. And these are the Seahawks we saw Sunday in their home-opening 27-7 win against Dallas.
After the Seahawks came up short in the opener in Arizona, they needed a big performance like this if they were going to avoid the dreaded 0-2 start that almost always signals a non-playoff season.
As in the opener, Seattle’s special teams set the tone — this time by forcing a fumble on the opening kickoff and then blocking a punt for a touchdown on Dallas’ first possession. The Hawks led 10-0 courtesy of those plays, and the defense continued to play fast and focused. The offense finally put together some long run-based drives in an impressive team win that left Seattle fans feeling a lot better about the Hawks as they prepare to host Green Bay on Monday night in Week 3.
“In our first chance to handle a loss, we did it really well,” Carroll told reporters. “That is the way we’d like to do it. We took care of the football all day. Special teams jumped on it and got something started in beautiful fashion for us, and then we started pounding away.”
The plan quite obviously was to run the ball, take pressure off rookie quarterback Russell Wilson and set up Wilson for play-action passes. After a slow start, it eventually worked.
It seemed too conservative early on, with the old Chuck Knox mantra of “run, run, pass.” They settled for two field goals in the first half, one of them set up by the opening fumble, and led 13-7 thanks to special teams.
The Hawks gained only 118 yards in the first half, and ran for just 33 yards on 13 carries (2.5 average). They flipped that in the second half, though, as the offensive line took control of the line of scrimmage and forged the way for Marshawn Lynch and the other backs to combine for 149 yards on 28 attempts (5.3 per carry).
Lynch finished with 122 yards on 26 carries and got some good breaks thanks to Robert Turbin (five carries for 15 yards, two catches for 24 yards) and Leon Washington (four rushes for 11 yards).
Lynch gained 100 yards in the second half, on 16 rushes. Among them was a 36-yard gallop that set up Wilson’s 22-yard touchdown pass to Anthony McCoy in the third quarter. That finished off a 90-yard drive that signaled the Seahawks’ line taking control.
Lynch put the nail in the coffin with a 3-yard TD run early in the fourth quarter. That capped a 12-play, 88-yard drive that finished the scoring with eight minutes left.
The Seahawks were inconsistent running the ball against Arizona, but they kept after it against Dallas and eventually pounded the Cowboys’ defense into submission. Perhaps the defining play of that physical dominance was Golden Tate’s blow-up block on linebacker Sean Lee on a scramble play by Wilson early in the fourth quarter. Tate temporarily knocked Lee out of the game, Wilson got 14 yards and a first down, and the Hawks ran the ball down the Cowboys’ throats as they drove it 88 yards for the clinching TD.
Now, if they can only do that in the first half next week. Grade: B
The defense had early trouble with DeMarco Murray and on third downs, but they tackled well and made Murray, Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and the rest pay any time they touched the ball.
After letting Murray run for 36 yards on eight attempts and Tony Romo throw for 170 yards and a touchdown in the first half, the Hawks clamped down in the second: Murray had just eight more yards on four carries, and Romo threw for 81 more yards.
Of course, it helped greatly that the Cowboys held the ball for only nine minutes in the second half, thanks to the Seattle offense’s two long touchdown drives.
The defense still has problems getting pressure on the passer in time, which explains why the Cowboys converted 7-of-13 third downs. Seattle hit Romo six times, but sacked him only once, when Bruce Irvin and Jason Jones — their two new pass rushers — got him down in the fourth quarter.
They varied their rush from three to four to five, but their blitzers often were a step late. They did affect some throws and they occasionally hit Romo, but they still have to improve that area.
They did pull in one interception when Romo threw late across the field into the arms of Brandon Browner (the Hawks were unable to capitalize with a score).
The Hawks got great play from a lot of defenders. Safety Kam Chancellor led the team with nine tackles. Earl Thomas recovered the opening kickoff fumble, separated the ball from Dez Bryant on a third-down play in the second quarter and nearly intercepted a tipped pass.
K.J. Wright was everywhere, coming up with five tackles and two passes defensed, covering Jason Witten and blitzing Romo. Chris Clemons hit Romo and tipped two passes and Brandon Mebane played another good game.
If this big, fast, physical, sure-tackling unit can develop a consistent pass rush, it will be impossible to move the ball on. Grade: A-
These units set the tone again, and this time the rest of the team took advantage of it.
Last week, Leon Washington had two great returns, leading to 10 points, but they weren’t enough to beat Arizona. This week, two early turnovers were big.
Michael Robinson knocked the ball out of Felix Jones’ arms on the opening kickoff, and Thomas recovered at the Dallas 29-yard line. It led to a field goal.
After the defense forced Dallas to punt on its first possession, Malcolm Smith blocked the punt and Jeron Johnson continued his ballhawking ways by scooping it up on the bounce and trotting into the end zone.
Not to be outdone, Jon Ryan pinned Dallas at its 5-yard line for its third possession. He also boomed a 55-yarder to the Dallas 12, a 50-yarder to the 35 and a 68-yarder. He netted 48.3 yards and put two inside the 20.
The Hawks’ special units are off to a stellar start this season. Grade: A
Wilson was efficient, hitting 15-of-20 passes for 151 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions. He also ran for 28 yards on four carries.
He started slowly as the Hawks had trouble running the ball and he had problems connecting with his receivers. On the first three drives, he had one pass batted down and missed Tate and Evan Moore.
But on the fourth drive, it started to come together. After three runs, Wilson hit Tate for 20 yards. Then he connected with Sidney Rice for 18 yards on second-and-21. He hit Zach Miller for seven yards on third-and-3. He drove the Hawks 52 yards in 11 plays, all the way to the Dallas 7. But penalties hurt that drive, including Wilson’s delay of game (his third in two games).
Once the Hawks got the running game going in the third quarter, Wilson’s job became easier. His 22-yard TD pass to McCoy from the pocket was perfect — it helped that the Hawks had all three tight ends running pass patterns, and the Cowboys seemed confused about which ones to cover. They need to use that personnel set more.
Wilson didn’t get a lot of help in the Arizona game, and he compounded it with plenty of his own mistakes. Against Dallas, though, he made no glaring errors and came up with some key plays to keep drives alive. The two long touchdown drives were very promising. Grade: B+
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Chris Cluff worked as a sports editor and writer for The Seattle Times for 11 years and has written two books on the Seattle Seahawks. Since leaving the Times, he has written about the Seahawks and Seattle sports for Bleacher Report and the blog he shares with a fellow sportswriter, outsidethepressbox.com. His work can be found on Examiner.com.