By Mike Salk
If you think the Seahawks need to make the postseason this year to ensure a successful season, then you think they had a bad weekend. Watching the Lions, Falcons and Giants all win losable games was tough for the Hawks' playoff chances.
If you think the Seahawks need to tighten up their undisciplined play and stop committing careless errors, you were also disappointed. Richard Sherman was called for taunting after making a great defensive play to (seemingly) finish up a goal-line stand. The team also screwed up two simple exchanges, once fumbling on a bad snap to the quarterback and then again on a bad handoff to the running back.
If, however, you think that success is measured in improvement and quality of play, then you have to be really darn impressed with what the Seahawks accomplished.
The Seahawks are growing into the type of team they want to become. They aren't always pretty, but they don't care about style points.
They'd prefer to win ugly anyways.
That's exactly what they are doing. In fact, they have done it in four out of their last five times, including Monday's 30-13 win over the Rams. They don't rack up huge passing yards like the Packers, Saints or Patriots. They don't have a heritage defense like the Steelers or Ravens. They don't have even the big-name quarterbacks or wide receivers like the Texans or Falcons.
But they do have three things you need to win in the NFL:
1. The Seahawks play hard. They may do some dumb things but they always seem to do them at full speed. Many of their penalties are of the "too aggressive" variety. Heck, many of their coaching braincramps have come for the same reason! They refuse to accept any national perception that their games aren't relevant or that they are out of the playoff picture.
If the whole team plays hard, nowhere is it more evident than watching Marshawn Lynch run. The whole idea of Beast Mode is almost an understatement. His ability to make quick, decisive cuts combined with his, um, zeal(?) to punish anyone in his path is a rare and special combination.
2. The Seahawks have a clear sense of who they are. They have formed an identity as a tough, physical team that will grind it out on offense and beat you up on defense. They don't ask their quarterback to throw it too often (they're 25th in the NFL in attempts) but they don't mind running it down your throat in any situation.
Of course, the offense is not at the center of this identity -- it is more of a placeholder while the defense gets an opportunity to rest. That defense is capable of special things not just because it is talented, but because it is unique. Red Bryant is an anomaly at defensive end and he is eating up tight ends that try to block him.
Brandon Browner and Sherman are lanky, physical corners that push you whenever they can get get a hand on you. Sure, that style draws a few (OK, a lot) of extra flags, but it has also provided a fair amount of ugly throws (see the play made by Browner on Brandon Lloyd immediately after Sherman's taunting penalty) and interceptions (see Browner's latest pick).
3. The Seahawks are getting production from surprising sources. I know everyone says that you have to have stars to win in the NFL, and let's face it, the Hawks aren't exactly star-laden. But even more importantly, the NFL is a matchup league with brilliant coaches that can scheme their way into picking on your weakest link. To that end, your weakest player can cause as many matchup problems as a great player on the opposite team. The Hawks have found ways to limit those liabilities.
They have survived injuries that have ended the seasons of 60 percent of their starting offensive linemen. They have survived the loss of two of their top three cornerbacks and the loss of their top threat at receiver.
They also have found ways to maximize their talent from a roster-building perspective. How do you make up for inevitable draft busts, free-agent disappointments and crushing injuries? Find quality players where no one else is looking.
John Schneider has done that.
Signed as an undrafted free agent, Doug Baldwin has been the posterchild for Schneider's beachcomber success, but he is hardly the only example. Consider Mike Williams' return from obscurity, Browner's return from Canadian exile and day-three draft steals K.J. Wright and Kam Chancellor.
The Seahawks aren't at their destination yet, and may not reach it this year. A win at home over the lowly Rams does not put anyone in the Super Bowl and I hope I'm not over reacting. They have holes along their offensive line and their receiving corps is likely not explosive enough to scare anyone. They will probably need a new signal caller before anyone fears them. They'll have to grow up and become more disciplined.
But in the meantime, you can see exactly where this thing could be headed.