Reason No. 1 is Brandon Mebane. The Seahawks defensive tackle turned in one of the most dominant defensive performances I've ever seen against the Rams on Sunday. This comes from someone who had a front-row seat for Cortez Kennedy's Hall of Fame career.
Mebane timed his get-off on the snap as if he were moving with the ball and spent nearly every play in the Rams' backfield. He was so disruptive, he almost took the handoff from quarterback Sam Bradford on two occasions and forced a crucial holding penalty on center Robert Turner that negated a touchdown run by Steven Jackson. Mebane finished the day with five tackles, two of which were for a loss.
As always with those big D-tackles, it's the things you don't notice that are so important. He forced double teams to stay with him, freeing up linebackers like K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner to enjoy nice solo tackles without the hassle of fighting off a blocker.
Mostly, he made Turner look like a little boy. I can't imagine what he must have said to his offensive line coach on the sidelines between series. I suspect it was something like, "Help!" Everyone in the NFL is very good, so it's rare to see someone dominate the way Mebane did.
In a game that featured some of Marshawn Lynch's best runs since he became a Seahawk, our postgame radio crew unanimously selected Mebane our player of the game.
Of the other 10 reasons, Wagner, the Seahawks' rookie middle linebacker, is starting to look like the real deal.
Wagner took more snaps in the preseason than any other Seahawk and it did him a world of good. In the first preseason game against the Titans, Wagner struggled just as you would expect a rookie to. He ran underneath blocks, took poor angles and his pass drops landed him in what linebacker coaches call "No Man's Land."
But he has steadily improved every week and had his best game by far against the Rams. I would say that Wagner has arrived but there's a lot of football left and he is a rookie. But consider this: tackles for a loss are a big deal for a middle linebacker who lines up 4 yards deep. They indicate speed, proper angles and the ability to "pull the trigger" and make split-second decisions. Of Wagner's seven solo tackles, three were on the St. Louis side of the line of scrimmage.
A tackle for loss also denotes confidence and swagger. I think No. 54 just found his.
Across the board, this defense matches up well against quarterback Cam Newton and the Panthers. Newton possesses not just the ability to run the ball, but the ability to run the ball with power. At 6-feet-5 and 245 pounds he's a load, but to a man, there's not one Seahawks defender that will lose that battle. I'm sure he loves to find a little cornerback to run over but I'll bet he's figured out by now, don't try to run over Seattle's cornerbacks. A guy like Brandon Browner will tune you up.
Carolina's running game is a bit of a mystery. Are they hot and cold or is it the style of defense that matters? The Giants held them to 60 yards and the Buccaneers allowed only 10 yards. Yet they averaged 209 yards rushing against the Saints and Falcons. Considering the matchups, Seattle's No. 2 ranking against the run, and the added attention Newton will get from defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, I like the Hawks' chances this week.
You make the call
But what about the offense and how about that play calling?
Back when we used to take calls on the postgame show, we had a caller tell us that Mike Holmgren's play-calling was predictable. That's right, some dude sitting on his couch in Tukwila was apparently inside of Holmgren's mind. I told him, "Mike Holmgren is one of the best play callers in NFL history. I'm not sure what you do for a living, but you need to quit that job first thing Monday morning and become a defensive coordinator in the NFL!"
I was just having some fun with him. I get it. It's a fan's right to question calls that don't work. It makes us feel like we're doing some good, and don't we all dream of being the guy that calls the perfect play in the perfect situation? I know I do.
So if you don't like the onside kick the Seahawks tried on Sunday or the shotgun formation, quarterback draw on third-and-2, that's your right. I'll tell you this, though: those plays are not pulled out of a hat or anywhere else. Pete Carroll and coaches like offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and special teams coach Brian Schneider put a lot of time and research into those decisions.
For example, this week Bevell will most likely scour every defensive snap the Panthers have taken this year and probably most of last year's as well. He'll break it down by down and distance, field position, personnel groupings and even time left on the clock. I've seen coaches go back three years and pull out plays that opposing coaches ran while coaching other teams.
It's all about finding a weakness and trying to exploit that weakness with a matchup problem or catch them by surprise. If you can get a quick back on a linebacker or a big tight end matched up on a small corner or out-man the weak point of a defense, it makes your 70-hour work week seem worthwhile.
Often you'll hear coaches like Carroll tell reporters in the Monday press conference, "Yeah, I'd like to have that one back." Taking that risk and facing that scrutiny is why NFL coaches make the big bucks.
I'll say two things in their defense: no matter what the play called, if it's executed properly it should work. And those other coaches and players on the opposing sidelines ... they get paid, too.
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