On The Road Again

As the fall rains begin to moisten the Western Washington landscape, the Seattle Seahawks head out of town to visit the other Washington. Of course, to the largely East Coast press, we are the "other" Washington, that quaint outpost of civilization somewhere out there in the top left corner of the country, farther away than Egypt.

September is always an unpredictable month in the NFL. No team has film on what other teams have been doing over the summer. There is no way to determine new tendencies or habits of teams that have had 6 or 7 months of the off season to add new players and plays. So, the defense, which depends more on athleticism than play diagramming, tends to have an edge early in the season.

Normally, it takes the offenses around the league a few weeks to get into rhythm.

That is why it is often fruitless to use September statistics to forecast how the full season will play out. The old adage goes: Championships are not won in September.

Conversely, many championships are lost in September.

Last week, the Arizona Cardinals came to town, thinking that if they could just avoid an 0-3 start, their hopes of post season play could be restored. Thankfully, the Seahawks rose up themselves and spanked the upstart Cardinals 37-12.

In doing so, they reversed a mini trend that had been developing. They managed to score in every quarter, not just in the second as in the previous two contests.

They also defended their home turf against a pesky division foe, and started to take control of the division by doing so. The Seahawks have yet to lose a conference or divisional game this season.

Now the team faces the long trip to Washington, DC for a game against the Redskins. The last trip east, to Jacksonville, went badly. But the question lingers - was that because of the travel, the heat, or is Jacksonville maybe just a solid team that beat us in their own house?

Well, the Seahawks never seemed to quit in Jacksonville. The defense, fighting to overcome 4 turnovers in their own half of the field, held the Jaguars to 4 field goal attempts, in which the opponents went 3-1 for 9 points that could have been 28. Yes, that game could have been much worse.

The Atlanta game seemed to cast some doubts upon the character of the Seahawks. Everyone points to the rather streaky way in which the points were scored. Seattle jumped out to a 21-point first half lead, and then proceeded to give up 18 unanswered points in the second half, but held on to win.

Lost in the stats, though, is a nugget of evidence that these are not the same old Seahawks.
With 5:09 left in the 3rd quarter, the Seahawks took over the ball on their own 9 yard line following a punt. What followed was a modest little drive that seemingly accomplished nothing. But, what really happened was that the Seahawks offense, with the defense seemingly off balance and reeling, put together two first downs, ran 4:11 off of the clock, and regained a bit of field position by punting to the Falcons 28 yard line.

The defense, with that brief respite granted to regain their breath and composure, forced the Falcons to punt after 5 plays that netted only 9 yards.

The next offensive possession, while it ended badly, once again ground time off the clock, time that the Falcons desperately needed for their comeback. In 9 plays, the Seahawks drove 82 yards and took 7:16 off of the clock. That would prove crucial. While the Seahawks didn’t score, and bungled the final few plays of the drive with penalties and a turnover, it would happen that the Falcons did not have enough time to make the two scores they needed to win. The game was capped off with the Seahawks defense, having been given some vital rest due to those two drives, held the Falcons to 1 yard on 4 plays in their final possession.

Over the course of the past two seasons, much has been made of the late game collapses of the defense. What has been missing from much of the discussion is that in most of those late game collapses, a single first down by the offense sometime in the second half might have dramatically altered the course of the game. As we’ve shown here, any kind of an offensive drive, even a non-scoring one, can give the defense time to rest and regroup.

Against the Cardinals, and carrying the somewhat dubious distinction of a team that couldn’t score in the second half, the Seahawks’ final three drives were scoring drives of 5:10, 4:14, and 6:20. Since they were leading 24-12 when that sequence started, they won going away. But, even if they hadn’t scored, they probably would have won the game anyway since their well rested defense held the Cards to a field goal in the second half.

Suddenly, the Seahawks are winning the time of possession battle and making it work to their advantage.

What does it all mean? Well, one could surmise that the Seahawks offense is starting to come around. It was noted earlier that the defense has somewhat of an advantage early in the season, while the offense develops its rhythm and learns to work together to pick up the new blitzes that defensive coordinators have devised over the course of the off-season.

Against Jacksonville, the Seahawks managed just one second half drive of over 3 minutes.

Against Atlanta, they had two.

Against Arizona, they had four.

Now, the question remains, can the Seahawks carry this momentum, developed in the friendly confines of Qwest Field, on the road to the hostile environment of FedEx Field in Washington, DC?

Once again, a test of this team’s character looms. In truth, every game is a test of character. Often, it is more important to look at how a team responds to a particular game than just whether they win or lose.

Looking at the Jacksonville game, it would be easy to label all of the difficulties they faced excuses. Yes, they traveled over 3000 miles, yes it was hotter than Hades, and yes the Jags look like legitimate playoff contenders in the tough AFC South. All of those factors played a part in the loss. The biggest factor, however, were the five turnovers, only one of which was in garbage time and didn’t really matter. Obviously, the Seahawks were not ready to overcome all of those obstacles.

In the past two games, in front of raucous, supportive home crowds, they have turned the ball over once. More than anything else, that is the basis for the Seahawks 2-1 record; that, and time of possession.

Much has been said about the Redskins’ defense, and it is quite good. But Seattle has been known to put up decent scores on good defenses in the recent past. Two years ago, they pasted 41 on Baltimore in a losing effort. Last year, they put up 24 on Miami and 23 against Carolina.

Given Washington’s anemic offense so far this year, our defense should have no problem keeping the ‘Hawks in the game.

There should be no reason why the Seahawks can’t score 3 or 4 times.

Much more than the Jacksonville game, this is a test of the Ruskellization of this team. Will the high motor, high character, never quit players that he tried to bring to the Seahawks emerge and win a game they should win in spite of the travel time, the early start, and the recent history of futility against the Redskins?

A loss today would be a step backwards and a poor lead in to a division game in Saint Louis next week.

Character wins out.

Seahawks 24
Redskins 13

Steve Utz writes frequently for Seahawks.NET. Send your feedback to Steve at sutz12@comcast.net.

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