MMQB: Seahawks 37, Cardinals 12

After a disturbing loss in Jacksonville to open the season and a near-implosion against the Falcons for a nervous victory last week, the Seahawks threw away the drama, laid down the smack on 2005's media darling, and proposed that perhaps it is the year after the hype that means everything.

Seattle Seahawks 37, Arizona Cardinals 12
Sunday, September 25, 2005
Qwest Field, Seattle, Washington

Play Of The Day: With 1:58 left in the third quarter and the Seahawks up 24-12, Shaun Alexander took the handoff from Matt Hasselbeck from the Seattle 48-yard line on 1st and 10. First running right, Alexander found nothing and reversed his field with a brilliant twist and cut. Alexander faked what seemed like the entire Cardinal defense out of their collective jocks and rumbled left for 45 yards to the Arizona 7. Notable on this play was a great block by Bobby Engram, which sealed the left side, and the horse-collar tackle by safety Robert Griffith on Alexander that was not called. The run set up Alexander’s fourth and final touchdown of the day.

Runner-up: With 13:04 left in the game, Hasselbeck threw right and deep from his own 20 to Darrell Jackson, who had once again completely abused Cardinals rookie cornerback Antrel Rolle. Hasselbeck threw to Jackson’s right side, away from Rolle’s lagging coverage, and Jackson had a 48-yard gain.

Handouts To The Standouts: Shaun Alexander, for one of his best games as a pro…Mack Strong, for facilitating much of Alexander’s damage…Matt Hasselbeck, for displaying great efficiency in the short game on his 30th birthday…Darrell Jackson, for taking a few more steps down the path marked “A+ Receiver”…The entire offensive line, for picking up Arizona’s multi-faceted blitzes so well that the Cards could not pick up one single sack…Michael Boulware and Ken Hamlin, for providing solid safety play as the corners still try to put it together…Jordan Babineaux, for helping that progression along…Leroy Hill, for picking up a sack, five tackles and an assist in his first extensive regular-season NFL action…Bryce Fisher, for showing the ability to get in the opposing backfield almost before the opposing team can (translation: this dude is faaaaaast!)…Seneca Wallace, Peter Warrick and Leonard Weaver, for their explosive fourth-quarter cameos…

…and a very special Seattle Salute to the venerable Chuck Knox, who was FINALLY inducted into the Seahawks’ Ring of Honor on this day. Nobody is more deserving.

Things That Made Me Go, “Blech!”: Aside from the run/pass ratio in the second quarter (when the game was still close) and a couple of drops on both sides of the ball (Marcus Trufant provided good coverage, but flubbed two possible interceptions), there was little to complain about. I could discuss the FOX television crew putting up a Chuck Darby profile with a photo of Antonio Cochran, or calling Ken Hamlin “Ken Hamilton”…but that wouldn’t be nice.

Offense: Matt Hasselbeck ran his offense with great efficiency, at least with the short game. Hasselbeck completed his first seven passes, and only started to go off the radar when he overthrew Bobby Engram halfway through the second quarter from the Arizona 22 for a sure touchdown. It’s possible that the injury to his throwing arm which has been an issue was still bothering him, but it was also encouraging to see the short passing game working so well. Hasselbeck ended his day with 20 completions on 31 attempts for 242 yards and got the ball to six different receivers – an impressive day, despite the lack of passing touchdowns. Hasselbeck’s running back would have a monopoly in the end zone on this day.

Alexander, who led the NFL with 20 touchdowns last season, came into this game with only one rushing touchdown, an anomaly that can partially be credited to the frustrating imbalance between pass and run. No such issues for the most part today – although he only got 4 carries in the second quarter, Alexander finished his afternoon with 22 carries for 140 yards and four trips to paydirt, tying his own (and Curt Warner’s) franchise record for rushing touchdowns in one game. Incredibly, Alexander’s first four-touchdown game (against Minnesota in September of 2002, when he also added a receiving TD as well) resulted from first-half scoring exclusively. This hat-trick-plus-one saw him scoring once in the first quarter, twice in the third, and once in the fourth. Ironic, since the Seahawks were unable to score in any quarter but the second in their first two games.

Obviously, Shaun Alexander was once again the cure for what ailed Seattle’s offense. Not only did he live up to his reputation as a scoring machine, Alexander also bucked the critics of his “one-dimensional style” by running hard and blocking effectively when needed. The third quarter was crucial for both Alexander and the team, as the running back carried the ball 8 times for 77 yards, and the Seahawks controlled the ball for almost ten minutes of that quarter, and more than ten minutes of the fourth. After playing to a 10-9 squeaker through the first 30 minutes, Seattle dominated the second half with a far more balanced attack.

Seattle’s receivers did what was required – the “little things” - as opposed to what will blow up the highlight reels in favor of fundamentals. Still, special plays were afoot. Darrell Jackson led the charge with 8 catches for 125 yards. He also gave cornerback Antrel Rolle, the Cardinals’ first-round draft pick, an expensive one-game education on the differences between the college and pro game when the ball’s flying through the air.

Jackson’s savvy, ability to establish the advantage right off the line, and his hunger for yards after the catch were all on display today. Jackson, considered by many to be a sub-elite receiver before this season, has quite a few pundits (including this one) reconsidering their opinions. Bobby Engram (5/54/0) and Joe Jurevicius (2/16/0) also proved their versatility by throwing outstanding blocks on two of Alexander’s long runs. Jackson’s 48-yard catch and Peter Warrick’s 42-yarder from the arm of Seneca Wallace (both in the fourth quarter) unblocked the short-game scenario and blew the game wide open.

The war of words predicated by current Arizona and former Seattle DE Chike Okeafor was a moot point on the field, as second-year tackle Sean Locklear wrapped Okeafor up all day. Bertrand Berry, Okeafor’s bookend, was completely negated by Walter Jones. This is a common theme in what looks to be Jones’ best season to date.

Defense: The primary fear coming into this game was how the Seahawks’ Mighty Mite cornerback trio of Andre Dyson, Marcus Trufant and Kelly Herndon (average height – a little over 5’10”) would handle Arizona’s terrifying trio of receivers – Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald and Bryant Johnson (average height – 6’2”!). Seahawks team president Tim Ruskell is known to favor short cornerbacks, and during his time in Tampa Bay, he had a team that mitigated any vertical disadvantages by sending enough pressure to shorten the timeframe of “free choice” for opposing quarterbacks.

So it would be today, as the Seahawks grabbed three sacks (Bryce Fisher, Michael Boulware and Leroy Hill), brought pressure from all sides, and had Kurt Warner out of the game with a groin injury before the first half was done. Boulware’s third-quarter sack of backup QB Josh McCown on a delayed blitz caused a fumble which was recovered by DT Rocky Bernard at the Arizona 1-yard line. Shaun Alexander scored on the next play.

In truth, the Seahawks faced this trio with a depleted secondary – Dyson missed part of the game with the flu, and Herndon suffered a concussion tackling tight end Adam Bergen in the third quarter. Jordan Babineaux picked up the slack very admirably with four solo tackles, four assists, and the interception that ended the game (Seattle’s first INT of the season). Boldin was held to 6 catches for 88 yards, and Fitzgerald to 3 for 41. Johnson caught one ball for 10 yards…and Arizona’s receivers were sent packing.

Special Teams: The three field goals by kicker Josh Brown were his first of the season…Josh Scobey returned two kickoffs for an average of 28.5 yards…Warrick and new Seahawks cornerback Jimmy Williams were featured on special teams…Leo Araguz punted four times for an average of 36.2 yards, and two inside the Arizona 20-yard line.

Summary: It’s funny how the hype shifts from year to year – in 2004, the Seahawks were everyone’s darling, and a “sure thing” for at least the NFC Championship. After a 9-7 season, an empty division title and a wild-card playoff loss, Seattle learned the difference between preseason fantasy and harsh reality. After an off-season of rebuilding and refining, the Seahawks showed today that they are quite possibly far more qualified to take that next step than the Cardinals, 2005’s media pet.

It may take a season like this, with an 0-3 start, to force the Cardinals into the land of harsh reality.

A journey the Seahawks have already taken.

Doug Farrar is the Editor-in-Chief of Seahawks.NET. Feel free to e-mail him at Top Stories