MMQB: Cowboys 38, Seahawks 17

The Seattle Seahawks' inconsistent 2009 season continued on Sunday with a 38-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

Dallas Cowboys 38, Seattle Seahawks 17
Sunday, November 1, 2009
Cowboys Stadium
Arlington, Texas

Play of the Day: Cowboys' quarterback Tony Romo completed a five-yard pass to Sam Hurd on an underneath crossing pattern, and Hurd did the rest, outrunning Seahawks linebacker Aaron Curry and shrugging off tackle attempts by Jordan Babineaux and Ken Lucas near the goal-line to score the Cowboys' first touchdown, and erase 3-0 Seahawks lead.

This play had a little bit of everything that led to the Seahawks' current 2-5 record: Plenty of time for Romo to complete a pass, players out of position on defense, poor tackling, and a Cowboys touchdown.

Handouts to the Standouts

Matt Hasselbeck played well, completing 22-of-39 passes for 249 yards and a pair of touchdowns, finishing the game with a respectable passer rating of 92.8, his highest away from Qwest Field this season. Hasselbeck was sacked three times and took a few more hits after getting rid of the ball, including taking one shot from Cowboys defensive Jason Hatcher that left the 34-year old passer clutching his ribs while writhing in pain. Hasselbeck didn't miss a snap, though, another testament to his toughness.

With blood trickling from a cut on the bridge of his nose, an image that would be reminiscent of tough-guy linebackers Dick Butkus and Jack Lambert if it weren't for the neon green gloves on his hands, middle linebacker David Hawthorne had a team-high 8 tackles and notched both of the team's quarterback sacks, the second forcing a fumble which led to the Seahawks' second touchdown with nine minutes to play in the game. "The Heater" wasn't perfect on Sunday, but he was one of the few on defense who showed up for all 60 minutes on Sunday.

Things That Made Me Go "Blech!"

Justin Forsett continues to make rookie mistakes, which shouldn't be happening midway through his second season. Forsett fielded a Matt McBriar punt inside his own 5-yard line when fielding it inside the 10-yard line is unacceptable. Forsett's forgettable first quarter would continue when he fumbled while fighting for extra yardage after picking up a third down on Seattle's second offensive series. The 5-8, 194-pound running back brings a lot to the table offensively, but if he's not listening to what the coaches are telling him, and he's continually pinning the team deep in its own territory, there's little reason for the coaching staff to trust him with more playing time.

As much one can admire T.J. Houshmandzadeh's competitiveness when the ball is in the air or in his hands, his histrionics after the play, particularly on the sidelines when it's directed at Hasselbeck, have already grown tiresome. A Gus Bradley, "Do your job" speech may be in order for Mr. Houshmandzadeh.

Seattle didn't lose this game because of the officiating—the zebras weren't missing tackles or blowing assignments in coverage—but is two good weeks against bad secondaries really all it takes for a guy like Miles Austin to get the benefit of the doubt? Austin drew a pair of questionable pass interference calls on key third-down plays in the first half, which helped extend touchdown drives.

On the first one, Austin initiated contact on Trufant while the ball was already in the air, and had zero chance at catching the pass, but was bailed out with a PI penalty. One the second flag, Austin just ran into Trufant, who was backpedaling, and that was enough to draw a flag.

Offense

Seattle's offense looked good for about a quarter-and-a-half, driving the ball 69 yards on 14 plays for a field goal on their opening drive, and bouncing back from a disastrous fumble by Forsett that resulted in a Cowboys' touchdown to drive 80 yards on 9 plays in 3:01, finishing with a beautiful Hasselbeck-to-Deion Branch 23-yard touchdown strike early in the second quarter.

Seattle would go three-and-out on their next drive and wouldn't possess the ball within scoring range again for another two full quarters, until Hawthorne's sack/forced fumble game them the ball at the Cowboys' 8-yard line.

What happened in between was more of the inconsistency that has plagued the offense throughout this season:

  1. Offensive line fails to pick up the blitz in the "A" gap, resulting in a six-yard sack on 3rd-and-5
  2. Houshmandzadeh is late coming onto the field when the team runs a third "Wildcat" play of the game.
  3. Julius Jones breaks off runs of 11 and 6 yards, getting the ball down to the Cowboys' 40-yard line, and offensive coordinator Greg Knapp goes with three wides on 2nd and 3rd-and-4, calls a pair of passes that fall incomplete and since neither balls went his way, leads to Houshmandzadeh's sideline antics.
  4. After running well in the above series, Edgerrin James replaces Jones, gains 1-yard on a run, the offense takes an inexcusable "12 Men in the Huddle" penalty, and on 3rd-and-14, a screen pass to James that falls well short of the sticks.
  5. Three-and-out, with Jason Hatcher easily beating Max Unger and drilling Hasselbeck.
  6. Another three-and-out, with Hasselbeck sacked on back-to-back plays.

Seattle padded their offensive totals with an 8-yard touchdown drive to increase their point total to 17, and using the no-huddle offense against a soft zone to drive to march 64 yards on 5 plays before Nate Burleson fumbled inside the Cowboys' 20-yard line, a play which perfectly described the Seahawks' day.

Damion McIntosh became the Seahawks' fourth left tackle of the season (hard to count Walter Jones), and compared to who he's replacing (Brandon Frye, Kyle Williams), he played pretty well. Matched up most of the day against All-Pro linebacker DeMarcus Ware, McIntosh limited the Cowboys' new $40M man to just the one sack of Hasselbeck, with the other two sacks occurring when Dallas attacked the "A" gap, and the interior of the line failed to pick up their assignments.

When Hasselbeck did have time, he was usually looking for Nate Burleson, who led the team with six receptions for 89 yards. Second-year tight end John Carlson found the dead spots in the Cowboys' secondary, catching 3 passes for 36 yards, and Deion Branch equaled Carlson's catches and yards, and caught his first touchdown pass of the season, which was his first touchdown pass from Hasselbeck since a December 16, 2007 loss against the Carolina Panthers.

Running back Julius Jones had a 31-yard gain on a screen pass in the fourth quarter, and fullback Justin Griffith hauled in a four-yard pass from Hasselbeck to score his first touchdown as a Seahawk. Houshmandzadeh had his worst outing in a Seattle uniform, catching just four passes for a season-low 24 yards.

Seattle's ground game had just one negative play (-1 yard on their first offensive play), and Seattle's runners did pretty well when running between the tackles. On plays to the outside, though, the Cowboys weren't yielding much. There did, however, appear to be additional yards to be gained if the Seahawks possessed a running back capable of making a defender miss in the second level. For the sixth consecutive game, Seahawks running backs were held without a rushing touchdown, a span that now covers 122 rush attempts by running backs (Seneca Wallace had a 7-yard touchdown run in Week 4). Speaking of milestones, James' 3-yard run on the game's final play gives him 12,243 for his 11-year career, which pushes him past Marcus Allen for 10th on the NFL's all-time rushing list. (Can we see more of Forsett now?)

Seahawks offensive coordinator Greg Knapp dialed up three "Wildcat" plays, which resulted in a seven-yard gain by Jones, a very ugly incomplete pass attempt from Hasselbeck-to-Seneca Wallace, and a no-gain that was negated by a defensive holding penalty. As much as the "Senecat" package (though I still prefer the "The Cyclone", after Wallace's alma mater) adds a new wrinkle to the offense, opposing defenses are less likely to be deceived by it since Wallace is the #2 quarterback and less likely to run the ball the way a Ronnie Brown, Joshua Cribbs, or DeAngelo Williams would.

With two weeks to prepare, though, couldn't something have been drawn up to get Deon Butler more involved in the offense? He's the fastest guy you've got, played very well in the preseason, yet has had only one pass thrown his way in the last three weeks. He is far too explosive an athlete to be such an afterthought on Sundays.

Defense

Seattle got Trufant and Leroy Hill back, and Patrick Kerney was able to play, but neither of the three played as much as they'd usually be expected to. Initially, Trufant and Kerney came on the field in nickel packages, which sent Hill was on the sidelines.

There was certainly a bit of rustiness working against these three key defenders. Trufant, who played more than anyone expected, was flagged for three pass interference penalties to varying degrees of worthiness. The most egregious was when the much-maligned Roy Williams ran a slant while quarterback Tony Romo threw a fade route, but the official bailed the ‘Boys out, flagging Trufant and setting Dallas up with 1st-and-Goal from the Seahawks' 1-yard line.

Meanwhile, Hill had five tackles, including one for a loss, and Kerney worked up a good sweat.

Aside from a five-play burst before Nick Folk's missed field goal, the Seahawks failed to put much pressure on Romo. Middle linebacker David Hawthorne got the team's only two quarterback sacks, while Corey Redding (2), Lawrence Jackson (2), Curry, and Darryl Tapp added one hit on Romo apiece.

Without much pressure, Romo had plenty of time to complete 21 of his 36 pass attempts for 256 yards and 3 touchdowns, becoming the fourth quarterback to post a 100+ passer rating (108.1) on the ‘Hawks this season. Hawthorne, Curry, Deon Grant, Josh Wilson, and Kelly Jennings broke up a few of Romo's pass attempts, but none were even close to being intercepted.

Hawthorne deserves praise for playing well in front of a hometown crowd, but there appeared to be a lot of pre-snap confusion, with players not knowing where to line-up or unsure of the call. Some of the blame can be laid on the coaching staff, but some of it falls to an inexperienced middle linebacker, especially one tasked with replacing a player as good as Tatupu.

Dallas' two biggest plays of the day—Sam Hurd's 36-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown, and Felix Jones' 30-yard catch-and-run that set up their final touchdown—were the results of a defender (in both cases, Aaron Curry) being out of position on those plays, and it's hard to imagine those lapses occurring with Tatupu on the field.

Second-year defensive tackle Red Bryant was up for Sunday's game, with Craig Terrill inactive, to give the Seahawks more of a run-stuffing presence. Still, the Cowboys gained 113 yards on 29 carries, though there was an 11-yard loss on an end-around by Patrick Crayton that deflates those totals a little bit.

Overall, Seattle's run defense had an uneven showing.

While they stuffed a few Cowboys running plays, thanks primarily to Hawthorne, Brandon Mebane, and Jackson—who continues to be the team's most consistent defensive lineman—they missed too many tackles, failed to maintain gap discipline, or were simply over-matched by Dallas' massive offensive line.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of Seattle's defensive showing on Sunday was how poorly it performed on third down. That's the only down where Trufant and Kerney both would be on the field at the same time, yet for the day, Dallas converted 7-of-13 (54%) of third down attempts. Before they entered "safe mode" in the fourth quarter, though, the Cowboys had gone a staggering 6-of-9 on third downs, which had a lot to do with Dallas building a 35-10 lead in the first 45 minutes.

Special Teams

Those waiting for punter Jon Ryan to turn in a stinker got their wish today. Ryan was sending low line-drives to Crayton, who had returns of 11 and 23 yards before Ryan's 53-yard punt might have been too much for Seattle's coverage unit to handle, as Crayton broke loose on an 82-yard touchdown return, the first the Seahawks have allowed since Roscoe Parrish's 63-yard return in the 2008 season opener. Ryan had a gross average of 40.3 yards, his lowest of the season, but his 21-yard net average was the second-lowest of his young career.

On the bright side for Ryan, he did a good job on a poor snap from Kevin Houser on Olindo Mare's 43-yard field goal in the 1st quarter, so while it wouldn't be surprising to see some specialists at the VMAC for a workout on Tuesday, I wouldn't expect Ryan to be replaced at this point.

Besides, Ryan wasn't the only special teams player to have a poor game.

As mentioned above, Forsett fielded a punt inside his own 5-yard line, a cardinal sin that resulted in Burleson handling the duties for the remainder of the game. Forsett received a pep talk from special teams coach Bruce DeHaven on the sidelines.

Other special teams gaffes included starting fullback Justin Griffith blowing a block that resulted in kick returner Josh Wilson taking a good shot from Cowboys linebacker Quincy Butler, and Hawthorne and Nick Reed standing in the same spot while Crayton ran by them on his touchdown return.

Mare put three of his four kickoffs into the end zone, including the opening kick, which went 8 yards deep and Felix Jones opted to not return. Special teams captain Lance Laury had a nice special teams tackle on a kickoff at the Cowboys' 16-yard line.

Summary

At 2-5, Seattle needs to win 3 of their next 4 to keep their playoffs hopes alive, which they could do considering they've got Philadelphia, Arizona, and Washington at home, and who knows if this Miami team is for real.

Oops, sorry. That was last year.

Fairly easy mistake to make, though, as the Seahawks fell to 2-5 today, but thanks to losses by both Arizona and San Francisco, are somehow still alive in the NFC West. However, while no ground within the division may have bee lost today, none was gained and an opportunity to pick up ground was wasted, which should count as a loss. As a third place team, opportunities to gain ground on both teams in front of them in the standings are few and far between, and Seattle failed to take advantage of it.  

I'm sure the message from Coach Mora this week will be that if they can get Locklear back, and find a way to win four of their next five games, which includes three divisional opponents and only one really difficult road trip (Minnesota), they could get to 6-6 for the final four-game stretch run, and hey, stranger things have happened.

That's a good approach for the team to take, but I'd be much more convinced that it's possible if Seattle were tied right now with San Francisco for 2nd place in the NFC West, or had shown at any point this season that they were remotely capable of being competitive for four quarters of a road game.  

Until that happens, this is still a wildly inconsistent football team whose playoff pulse still beats because it plays in a division of teams that are only slightly less inconsistent than they are.

In addition to writing for NorthwestFootball.net, Brian McIntyre blogs daily at Mac's Football Blog. You can follow Brian on Twittah, and if you'd like to e-mail him, you can always do so by clicking here.

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