The NFL has a lot of problems. The biggest is that the game is dangerous in ways that affect players minds in profound ways during and after their careers. Beyond that there are myriad issues big and small including stadium policy, domestic abuse, uneven game quality, Tom Brady’s stupid face, ownership collusion, forced jingoism, and me crying at the Amazon ad where the dog dresses up as a lion so the baby will like it.
Players using their platforms to raise awareness of discrepancies in police brutality along racial lines and league efforts to reduce concussion causing hits are not among the real and meaningful issues facing the NFL. In fact they’re the opposite of problems. Aside from deep shots down the sideline and Earl Thomas run stuffs, the increasing level of political responsibility amongst the players is the best thing the sport has going for it. And while anti-concussion protocols are likely insufficient to prevent CTE, the effort has to be made.
Which is all to say that as the Seahawks lost to the Titans on Sunday to fall to 1-2 on the season, there were larger forces lurking around the game itself, forces that coalesced into a terrible speech and series of tweets from our terrible president that suggested that players protesting systemic racism and new rules preventing concussions are bad. Neither team came out for the anthem in protest of our terrible president’s terrible comments (which condemned the protests without understanding them), and the Seahawks players issued the above statement, condemning both the president and the racism that started this cycle of protests.
But, as with so much else that is tarnished by our trash president, the thing itself happened. There was a game played on Sunday. A largely bad, but also quite interesting battle between two teams that I think are highly likely to be in the playoffs this year. So let’s run down what happened in it:
• The Seahawks defense followed up a spectacular first half on Sunday with a truly catastrophic third quarter. They gave up the longest run of Pete Carroll’s tenure as head coach to DeMarco Murray, and failed to tackle Rishard Matthews on a 55 yard touchdown despite (an estimated) 55 opportunities to do so.
I’m going to blame the heat, which one-third Stranger Genius and game attendee Ben Beres described as so hot, “my ball sweat was sweating.” There were a couple moments of indiscipline that led to two huge plays for the Titans, but really it just looked like the Seahawks, who had hoped to rotate their players throughout the game, were gassed.
Why blame the heat? The other option is that Kam Chancellor is bad now, and Bobby Wagner is slow, and Earl Thomas isn’t made out of magic, and I’m unwilling to consider any of those three things until far more evidence comes in on a far cooler day.
• Doug Baldwin is really good, and basically took over Sunday’s game in the early stages of the fourth quarter, when the Seahawks were at risk of a total collapse. He then tweaked his groin and had to miss the game’s final offensive series. I really hope that Baldwin is healthy, and that the team starts leaning on him until other teams start double teaming him.
• Setting aside Baldwin, left tackle George Fant’s torn ACL is the only major injury to a Seahawks starter, the team’s special teams unit has been decimated by injury of late. First DeAndre Elliot was lost for the year in the preseason, then Neiko Thorpe hurt his ankle, then D.J. Alexander suffered a muscle injury, and now Dewey McDonald has a knee injury that could end his season. These absences not only ruined the Seahawks’ punt coverage both prevented the aforementioned planned for defensive rotation, and required starters to play special teams snaps in heat that Beres also described as, “the devil breathing all over my back.” My take? I think football injuries are bad. Controversial!
• Titans linebacker Wesley Woodyard has been in the NFL for 10 years. I had never heard of him until this weekend, despite his presence on the Broncos team the Seahawks dispatched in Super Bowl 48. I’ve heard of him now though, as he played a large part in the Titans’ process of ruining Russell Wilson’s life on Sunday. Which is mostly to say that despite the offensive line looking slightly better (the guard play was… adequate?), the unit is still vulnerable to lapses during which they make journeymen look like superstars. This wasn’t a game that Titans star lineman Jurrell Casey took over (though he looked good). It was a game where on any given play the Seahawks were liable to give up to pressure to a relative nobody. That’s not great.
• On the subject of the not great offensive line… I mean, look at this:
The half-moon of regret that is the Seahawks offensive line. Couldn't protect for four seconds against a three-man rush on fourth-and-22. pic.twitter.com/kSVeZGLUjh
— Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) September 24, 2017
Terrible. Rees Odhiambo allowed 10 pressures on Russell Wilson himself this week. And he's the only guy in this picture blocking anyone. Yeeeeesh.
• Speaking of Russell Wilson and not great… is the line play all that’s going on with Russell Wilson? Can he just not handle the pressure? Because while his stat line from Sunday looks really good (29/49 for 373 yards and 4 touchdowns with no interceptions) he was wildly off for the better part of three quarters. I was genuinely worried he was injured. But then he put together maybe the best quarter of his career. It’s almost like a guy who doesn’t know when he’s going to get hit by a three man rush can’t produce with the consistency a fan would hope for. So yeah, it’s mostly the pressure. But also, woof, some of his early throws were bad.
• Speaking of woof, I watched the game in a bar with a dog who barked whenever the Seahawks scored. It was great. Specifically when tight end Luke Willson reeled in a late touchdown, the dog sounded like he was saying “Luke.” I guess I’m just bragging about watching the Seahawks game with a very good dog.
• Also woof? Eddie Lacy who, despite being active this week after sitting last week, rushed for 0 yards on 0 carries. Rookie Chris Carson scored his first touchdown and looked fine in his role as primary ball carrier behind a wholly inept offensive line. Second-year running back C.J. Prosise looked useful as a guy who can provide a pass catching outlet when Russ is about to get destroyed. What’s Lacy’s role on the team going forward? Hell, what’s Thomas Rawls’ role? I like them both as players and people, and they’re valuable depth, but it’s weird to think that neither will be a primary ball carrier without something bad happening.
• One more woof? Let’s give it up for the officials who nearly lost control of the game with two bad calls involving Richard Sherman (the first of which benefitted the Titans in myriad dumb ways, the second of which managed to not punish Sherman for a late hit on Marcus Mariota). They were missing calls all over the place. This is not to blame them for the loss at all; on balance their shoddy work evened out (they 100% stole a touchdown from Titans cornerback Adoree Jackson). I think this is just to say that refs, like players, can get too hot to perform.
• I guess the question now, as the team sits at 1-2 and the Rams look pretty good at 2-1, is whether or not the Seahawks are pretty good themselves despite their record. And… I don’t know. I think they are? I think we saw flashes of excellent offense that can be replicated going forward. I think that the defense is more likely to look like the unit that dominated the first half on Sunday, rather than the unit that was torn apart in the third quarter. I think the special teams will be better as players get healthy and the coaches can gameplan for the new guys they’ll have to deploy.
But it’s really tough to say. When things go bad it’s really bad, and it’s tough for me as someone deeply invested to judge. I wish I could watch this team through impartial eyes. I watched some of the Sunday night game afterwards, and Kirk Cousins was slinging perfect pass after perfect pass as Derek Carr looked like his brother David, missing wildly at the first sign of pressure. But it didn’t really change my opinion of either quarterback in a seismic way. I think they’re both good but not great signal callers, capable of winning big games or losing badly in any given week.
I can’t see a Russell Wilson led offense that way. His capacity for magic, his flashes of excellence, his ability to control the game with his legs while avoiding turnovers… the highs are just so high. And then watching him miss throws after getting hit a dozen times a week… the lows are nigh unwatchable. But I can’t tell if that’s really that different than Derek Carr looks to someone who loves the Raiders, or Cousins to a Washington fan. And are those teams good? Is anyone good? Is anything anything?
I can’t tell you. But I can tell you that if, as expected, Andrew Luck doesn’t play next week, and they lose to a really bad Colts team starting a backup QB next week that the Seahawks are in the danger zone. Fortunately, I really don’t think that’s going to happen.