MMQB: Cardinals 26 - Seahawks 20

Seattle lost another close game that resulted in Head Coach Mike Holmgren conceding the division in his post-game press conference. He said that "the goals of the season" would be different - the real question is, what kind of different will we see?

I know there were a few of you who were hoping against hope that Seattle would win a big game at home and that would spur a huge winning streak that would culminate in a miracle victory to win the Superbowl. I know that a miracle season like that wouldn't have bothered me any. Alas, that was not to be, as Seattle lost another close game that resulted in Head Coach Mike Holmgren conceding the division in his post-game press conference. He said that "the goals of the season" would be different - the real question is, what kind of different will we see?

Arizona Cardinals 26, Seattle Seahawks 20
Qwest Field, Seattle, WA
November 16th, 2008

Play of the Game: Down by six with a little more than two minutes left in the game, those who watched Fox's coverage of the game hear that Mass Hasselbeck has led 19 game-winning drives in his career. Hasselbeck drops back to pass, moves up in the pocket a little and fires a... lame duck that is intercepted by rookie CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, catching his 2nd interception of the game and his second career interception. Seattle was in a good position to drive for the win, and the momentum might even have been on Seattle's side prior to that interception. With that pick went the last hope for Seattle's season, and it is time to acknowledge that the rest of this season needs to be in preparation for 2009.

Handouts to the Standouts: CB/KR Josh Wilson made a huge interception and return that set up Seattle's first touchdown - evading about 4 tackles, including a hit on an offensive linesman - and returned a kickoff in the 4th quarter to midfield, continuing his tradition of giving the offense great starting position despite poor blocking by the kickoff unit... LB Lofa Tatupu allowed a big-time reception by Cardinals WR Anquan Boldin in zone coverage, but otherwise played a strong game, notching 9 tackles and applying pressure to the quarterback... CB Marcus Trufant did an under appreciated job in coverage for the part of the game that he was in, allowing no completions that I noted... DT Brandon Mebane apparently signed up for a yearlong place in this list, and had a strong game against the run while also notching a key sack and forced fumble late in the 4th quarter... WR Deion Branch managed to play the entire game, and played fairly well, catching 4 passes for 54 yards and getting open consistently... DE Darryl Tapp has had an up-and-down career with Seattle but played better than his already decent statistics (5 tackles, 1 sack) would have you believe...

Things That Made Me go "Blech!": Cardinals QB Kurt Warner threw for just under 400 yards (395), and yet I felt like the Seahawks secondary had won a victory in the 2nd half, which says quite a bit about lowered expectations and the first half of the game... The Seattle rushing attack did absolutely nothing against the Cardinals defense, despite the return of Hasselbeck... Speaking of Hasselbeck, there was quite a bit of rust for him to shake off, including 3 interceptions... Seattle had done a good job picking up the blitz throughout most of the season, but proved incapable against Arizona, as Hasselbeck took too many hits... Arizona WRs Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin are both elite players who makes plays, but Seattle was completely unable to stop them as their statistics look like the result of a Madden simulation... TE John Carlson caught a few passes but also dropped one, a disturbing trend... The offensive playcalling was completely unimaginative, which is an improvement over the defensive playcalling, which is mind-boggling...

Referee Report Card: Overall this is one of the best officiated games I have seen in quite some time, and I'm not just saying that because Seattle wasn't hit too hardly. Seattle got away with one blatant hold (Mike Wahle (who else?) on a play Hasselbeck was sacked on), but otherwise the refs let the teams largely play and made the correct decisions on challenged plays. I give this an "A", and frankly I can't really imagine a game being better officiated. Blind referee jokes are canceled for the next week. I hope that this crew is in the playoffs, because the officiating around the league has been terrible this year. (And no doubt I'll be fined by the NFL for saying that)

Offense: The return of QB Matt Hasselbeck made me a little giddy. While I do not believe Seneca Wallace is a bad quarterback, he was not a pro-bowler either like Matt. I had hopes of an offense that moved the chains and was run crisply, like the ancient days of 2007. Then reality came and made me realize how foolish I was to expect Hasselbeck to be fully recovered so soon. There was a lot of rust, which might have cost Seattle the game, but there was also a lot to look forward to. Just having a quarterback who makes timely reads is refreshing, and Hasselbeck is able to get rid of the ball quicker since he does not drop back 10 yards like Wallace often did. Matt also ran the ball much more often than Seneca, picking up first downs with his feet. Compared to Wallace, who seems to have a little Donovan McNabb on his shoulder demanding that he stay in the pocket no matter what, Hasselbeck played like the scrambling quarterback we expected Wallace to be. Those runs did a lot more than pick up first downs, they also show that Hasselbeck has recovered from his injury more fully than many expected.

The return of WR Deion Branch was another pleasant surprise. Branch has been a humongous disappointment since he came to Seattle, rarely making a huge impact in games but always making the injury report, yet against the Cardinals he looked surprisingly crisp and sharp. His stats were not especially eye-catching, only 4 passes for 54 yards, but his impact on the game seemed much bigger. Timing appeared to be worlds better as some degree of normalcy returned to the offense, and his 33-yard catch-and-run was a big play for an offense that has generated precious few of those. While no doubt Seattle would like more production from Branch than 54 yards, it was a promising sign to see Branch stay healthy for a full game while being somewhat involved with the passing attack.

For several games I had defended the offensive line as merely being outnumbered by the defense due to a poor quarterback situation, but even with Hasselbeck the unit appeared unfit. This same line was played well against San Francisco and St. Louis early in the year when Hasselbeck was healthy, but seems to have regressed quite a bit since then. RT/RG Ray Willis struggled a little in the running game, making him no different than Womack in the same spot. Womack, who moved to LG after an injury to Mike Wahle, fared no better. What was really distressing was how poorly the offense picked up the blitz - all year long, that has been a strength of the unit, but today Hasselbeck took a lot of hard hits before he could even make his first read. The line has to start turning in better efforts on runs and passes if Seattle is going to resurrect the offense before the year ends.

Defense: Is there no way to stop Larry Fitzgerald? Anquan Boldin ended up with the better day, and did an excellent job of destroying Seattle's zone coverage, but Fitzgerald murdered the Seahawks' defense several times despite great man coverage by Wilson and Jennings. While Seattle's "midget" cornerbacks have had success (usually in prior seasons) against most wide receivers, Fitzgerald caught almost every pass thrown to him, despite having Jennings or Wilson on his hip pocket throughout his route. Great throws by Warner and fantastic catches by Fitzgerald resulted in big chunks of yards for Arizona early in the game. What is so frustrating is that it is hard to pin Jennings or Wilson for having a bad game - Fitzgerald made numerous catches where he got absolutely no separation on the cornerbacks, despite running a good route.

One thing that should be crystal clear by now is that Seattle has no reason to keep defensive coordinator John Marshall around. His schemes are unimaginative at best, and absurd at worst. Lining up with three defensive linesmen isn't bad and shows the offense a different look. But why do you put 6'1 314lb Brandon Mebane at right end, while keeping 6'4 299lb Rocky Bernard at the nose tackle spot? There is no logical reason to assign your weakest defensive tackle to the nose tackle spot of a 3 down defense. Arizona's coaching staff happened to agree with me on that play, as Arrington rushed right up the middle for a first down. That kind of play, while not a huge travesty in and of itself, shows the problems associated with a John Marshall defense - most of the "excitement" comes from yelling at Marshall to stop misusing his players. CB Marcus Trufant matches up best against Fitzgerald, as Trufant is the biggest and strongest of the cornerbacks. Yet, while Jennings and Wilson were getting carved up by Fitzgerald, Trufant stayed put. Having roles for players is nice. It helps them really perfect their job. But stubbornly holding to those roles when they are being exploited - Warner never even threw at Trufant while he was in the game - is just poor coaching.

Speaking of poor coaching, somebody is going to have to explain why Brian Russell is still starting. At best, he's a bad safety. At worst, he's a green light for any offensive player in the second level. Why, given the general state of our defense, Russell's poor play, and the hopelessness of our season, is Russell still starting at safety? What could Seattle possibly lose by playing Jamar Adams, and seeing if the kid can play? Even Jordan Babineaux, who is a terrible safety with poor tackling form, cannot possibly be any worse than Russell - at least Babineaux has impressive speed he can show off in between missing tackles. Even Russell supporters will tell you the only thing he brings to the secondary is smarts - exactly how smart is our defense playing? Whether or not he is an instinctive safety is up for debate, but regardless it doesn't seem to be helping anybody.

Special Teams: Lance Laury, how do you get an unnecessary roughness penalty while a member of the Kickoff Return team? I mean, it is one thing to do it on coverage, but on a return? The lack of discipline by Bruce DeHaven's squad is pretty amazing to consider. Were it not for the excellent play of Justin Forsett, Josh Wilson, and Olindo Mare, this unit could contend for one of the worst units in the league.

Conclusion: Holmgren said after the game that the goals of the season have changed. We have to hold our breath and hope that the new goals result in changes for the team. It remains to be seen whether or not these promises manifest - Seattle fans are still waiting for the aggressive changes in play calling Holmgren promised at the beginning of the year - but given the all-but-official elimination from the playoffs, changes are all that Seattle fans have to look forward to.

 


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