Three weeks ago the Seahawks were coming off back-to-back thumpings of the 49ers and Jaguars. Since then, things have gone decidedly less thumpingly. They stole a game in Houston, had a game stolen in Indianapolis, and won in less-than-stellar fashion against Tennesse at home. Listening to NFL talking heads and reading NFL columnists and analysts, the two negative descriptions I’ve heard most about the Seahawks over the past fortnight and a half are “ugly” and “sloppy“.
I won’t argue with the former (although this certainly isn’t ugly), but I don’t think sloppy is an apt adjective. Certainly there has been some sloppiness — wasting all three timeouts on botched personnel packages and play calling against the Colts comes to mind — but overall I think a lot of what’s being categorized as sloppy play is actually fluke or legitimate flaws in the Seahawks’ game.
The fluke plays are pretty obvious. I don’t think any opposing coach game-planning for the ‘Hawks is thinking to himself, “Just let them attempt a bunch of field goals and wait for the touchdowns to roll in!” Blocked and botched kicks are very rare, especially ones that get returned for touchdowns. That this happened in consecutive weeks, means next to nothing moving forward. I’m guessing another such play doesn’t happen the entire rest of the season and probably all of next season as well.
The legitimate flaws are less obvious, but they are still apparent to people who’ve been watching all the games. Generally speaking, there are two: lack of a pocket passing game and ’85 Shitheadism.
On offense, almost the entire Seahawks “air attack” has been Russell Wilson scrambling for his life and then throwing on the move or tucking it in and running like the dickens. For the most part, this has actually worked quite well (and it’s fun as hell to watch), but it seems to be most effective when the opposing defense has to cover a lot of the field. When they pack it in and the down-field gaps aren’t as wide, Wilson is much less dangerous, which probably helps explain why the ‘Hawks have been so bad on third-down conversions and in the red zone. Hopefully there is something Carroll & Co. can do scheme-wise to increase efficiency in these situations, but the real “solution” might be to just hang tough until the big man on the o-line, Russell Okung, returns. A healthy Zach Miller and Breno Giacomini wouldn’t hurt neither. Nor would that guy the Seahawks traded all those picks for in the off-season.
On defense, the ‘Hawks continue to be feast or famine. (Or as I like to put it lovingly, they’re either the ’85 Bears or the ’85 Shitheads.) As good as they can be, they go through stretches where seemingly the only way they can’t get an opposing offense off the field is to give up a score. You can see this anecdotally by looking at some of their recent performances — second half against the Colts, first half against the Texans, first half against the Falcons last year, first quarter against the Redskins last year, and so on — but the numbers also support it. As I’ve mentioned before, the Seahawks were last in FO’s defensive variance last season, and they’re near the bottom of the list this year, as well. I’m not sure why this is. Are they just not that good on the road? Are certain refs overly harsh/lenient on their physical secondary? Is it a scheme thing? A match-up thing? Is it just noise (statistical or stadium)? I don’t know. But whatever it is, I wouldn’t call it sloppiness. Frustrating, yes. Sloppy, not so much.
With all that said, if ever there was a week for a slopfest, this is it — a short turn-around, in the desert, against the Cardinals and their potentially slop-inducing defense. Even without the formidable Calais Campbell, who is questionable after being carried off the field on a stretcher on Sunday (He’s going to be fine long-term, so it’s OK, karmically, to hope he doesn’t play this week.), the Cards have a host of defensive stalwarts who can stir up trouble for opposing offenses, like Daryl Washington (their best player) and Patrick Peterson (their most famous player). For the second year in a row, the Cards have a top-10 defense by DVOA. Last year, they were “sneaky good”; this year, they’re just good. There’s a decent chance we see a lot of Jon Ryan and Steven Hauschka on Thursday. Yes, I know, I’m tired of them too.
Thankfully (for non-Cardinals fans), Arizona’s offense is equally as bad as their defense is good. Carson Palmer is a huge step up from the dross they had taking snaps last season, but he isn’t exactly Neil Lomax in 1984 (look it up). He’s been pretty lousy this year, sporting a cringe-worthy “business hours” touchdown-to-interception ratio, 7-to-11. Larry Fitzgerald might still be really good, but nobody can say for sure. On the ground, the Cards do their opponent a favor every time they hand the ball off to Rashard Mendenhall instead of Andre Ellington, who’s looked good in limited action, so far. Mendenhall might not even deserve a spot on an NFL roster, let alone a role as featured back. And then there’s the Cardinals offensive line, who recently lost starting left tackle Levi Brown* in a trade to Pittsburgh for a draft pick and probably got better in the process, which tells you pretty much all you need to know.
I don’t expect this game to be 58-0 like the last time these two teams played, but I think the ‘Hawks take care of business. My doppelganger game from the past is the win over the Ravens from 2011, so my prediction is Seahawks 22, Cardinals 17.
[Thursday afternoon note: Bill Barnwell talks about sloppiness on Thursday Night Football in a column today. His study is nowhere near conclusive, but it might be a myth.]