SEATTLE, WA - OCTOBER 2: Defensive lineman Alan Branch #99 gets fired up during play against the Atlanta Falcons at CenturyLink Field on October 2, 2011 in Seattle, Washington. The Falcons won the game 30-28. (Photo by Stephen Brashear /Getty Images)
Some encouraging takeaways from the Seahawks' loss to the Falcons on Sunday.
The Seahawks, in my view, accomplished a lot in yesterdays' game, and some of them are admittedly cliches: they played their hearts out; they left it all out on the field, particularly with the 'screw it let's just go for the win now' 61-yard field goal attempt; they came together as a team; they made us proud. I don't know if those last two are actually cliches, but the whole 'moral-victories' takeaway angle from this game is. I don't care though, because I really did feel pretty good about that game, as a fan, and think we saw glimpses of Pete Carroll and John Schneider's plan for this team in action.
Some notes, and some more cliches:
"It all starts in the trenches"
The Seahawks offensive line is no longer the scapegoat for every one of this team's failings. They protected, they played nasty, and they look to be growing together. Russell Okung is the anchor of this line and he played well. James Carpenter has been steadily and markedly improving each game he plays. He's lost 25 pounds since reporting for camp and that has really, really shown up in his play.
Max Unger was a player that I know a lot of people were skeptical about to start the season but thus far has held his own quite nicely. John Moffitt and Paul McQuistan seem to be improving. The Hawks gave up 9 QB hits to the Falcons but zero sacks after giving up 14 in the first three games. That's showing progress.
On the defensive side, the d-line has impressed as well. Red Bryant, Brandon Mebane, Alan Branch, and Chris Clemons are stopping the run well, and opponent's 3.2 yard per carry average is tied for 3rd in the league with the Baltimore Ravens, and behind only the Dallas Cowboys and Cincinnati Bengals. Those two teams are giving up 3.1 yards per game, so the difference is negligible. The point is, right now the Seahawks are one of the best teams in the NFL at stopping the run and that's encouraging because that's what this defense is built to do, first and foremost.
"You gotta pass in this league to win"
On the other hand, the NFL has becoming a passing league and there are many out there that believe a balanced offense is going the way of the buffalo. Well, I don't know if that's true or not but the Seahawks proved yesterday that they can still pass the ball. Tarvaris Jackson spread the love - Doug Baldwin caught five passes for 84 yards; Sidney Rice, 3 for 79 with a touchdown; Mike Williams, 3 for 36 and a touchdown; Ben Obomanu, 3 for 25 with a touchdown; and Zach Miller, 3 catches for 21 yards.
The Seahawks have developed great depth in the receiver corps these past few seasons and it has showed. When Mike Williams and Doug Baldwin went out with head injuries, Ben Obomanu and Golden Tate stepped in and the Seahawks offense didn't appear to skip much of a beat.
Obviously though, a lot of credit should go to Tarvaris Jackson for his performance. He passed for 319 yards on a 65% completion percentage and his 12.8 yards per catch was impressive. Sidney Rice averaged 26.3 ypc, Baldwin 16.8 ypc, BMW 12 ypc. These are not dumpoffs and checkdowns. These are deep routes and passes thrown on the money.
"Defense wins championships"
It's tough to say that the defense had a good day when you see a big "30" on the scoreboard by the opponent, but I will say the Seahawks made adjustments and really stifled the Falcons in the 2nd half. For a team with a multiple score lead, the next step is running the ball to wear down the opponent and to run the clock. The Hawks held the Falcons to 29 yards of net rushing in the 2nd half on 14 attempts. They limited the Falcons' potent passing attack to 127 yards of passing in the second half. They did what they needed to do, in the 2nd half, to allow the Seahawks offense to get back into the game.
The first half was suspect, yes. The the defense made some adjustments and battled back, and that's encouraging. They gave up a field goal in each frame and six total points in the second half and the Seahawks were in a position to win the game as time ran out, so that's a big takeaway.
"It's the eye of the tiger"
In 2010, the Seahawks never lost a game by less than 14 points and didn't really show the fight and intestinal fortitude necessary to play themselves back into games they trailed. The heart and determination they showed on Sunday by working their way back into that game is definitely one of those elusive silver linings that a team can take and build on. They know they're good enough to battle back against favored teams. They know they can make a big play when they need. This 'winning culture' is hard to find for NFL teams that have been mired in losing seasons the last few years but that attitude is growing here in Seattle.
The 'eye of the tiger' -- or swagger, confidence, winning edge, whatever you want to call it, in a characteristic you see in every championship team and the Seahawks have shown glimpses of this, going back to their improbable upset of the Saints last year in the playoffs, to their hearty comeback that just fell short on Sunday.
This kind of attitude doesn't come overnight but when you start stringing together a few gutsy performances, players start to believe.
You can see the Seahawks starting to believe in their system. Wins will follow -- maybe not immediately, but you can see the foundation being laid.