By Danny O’Neil
Three things we learned:
1. Quantity is not as important as quality.
At least not when you’re talking about Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. He finished with 123 yards passing in Sunday’s 23-20 win over Houston, his second-lowest single-game total in any NFL start. He was also sacked five times, didn’t complete a pass of 25 or more yards and failed to convert a third down until midway through the third quarter.
But if you insist on painting Wilson by the numbers you’ll miss the bigger picture of just how remarkable he was on Seattle’s 98-yard drive in the fourth quarter. He used his arm, completing four of five passes for 46 yards and converting two different third-and-7 situations. He used his legs, rushing four times for 53 yards and most remarkably making a fourth-and-3 scramble inside the Houston 10.
But most of all, Wilson relied upon his resiliency during a drive which Seattle seemed determined to make as difficult as possible.
The possession started with Golden Tate inexplicably catching Houston’s punt at his own 3 and promptly stepping out of bounds. Not only that, but there was a penalty called on No. 3 tight end Kellen Davis during the return, his third flag of the game. That meant the Seahawks started at their own 2, and it didn’t get any better from there as Seattle botched the snap on first down, forcing Wilson to fall on the ball at his own 1.
Also on that drive was a 25-yard touchdown pass to receiver Jermaine Kearse that was nullified by a penalty for offensive pass interference as well as a false-start penalty followed by a sack, which had Seattle facing second-and-24. Despite all that, Wilson led Seattle to its first touchdown of the game on that possession.
“I don’t know what his numbers were,” coach Pete Carroll said of Wilson afterward, “it doesn’t matter. You had to watch this game to see the things that he did to give us a chance and keep us going.”
2. If coffee is for closers, Seattle’s defense deserves a cup.
Seattle’s league-leading defense came with an asterisk in 2012. As good as that unit was while allowing the fewest points in the league, it lost fourth-quarter leads in losses at Detroit, at Miami and (most memorably) in the playoffs at Atlanta.
Well, Seattle’s defense took a major step forward in Houston when it not only pitched a shutout in the second half but had two takeaways that led to 10 of the Seahawks’ 20 points in the first four quarters. As hard as it was to imagine complimenting Seattle’s defense after a first half in which it allowed more yards than it had given up in any game this season and more points than any of its last eight regular-season games, the second half was truly something. Houston never got the ball inside Seattle’s 40-yard line after halftime despite having the ball three times with the score tied and a chance to win the game.
Alec Baldwin’s show-stealing appearance in “Glengarry Glen Ross” included the declaration that coffee is for closers, and Seattle stood tall in that regard Sunday.
3. Seattle needs to get healthy along its offensive line.
Yes, the Texans have the league’s best defensive lineman in J.J. Watt. They also have one of the league’s most aggressive defensive coordinators in Wade Phillips. But Seattle’s offensive line was so porous that Houston’s pass rush often resembled a multi-player race to the quarterback.
The absence of center Max Unger was most evident as Lemuel Jeanpierre twice botched the snap count – resulting in two false-start penalties – and also botched a snap at the Seattle 2 on the final play of the third quarter.
Seattle isn’t going to keep winning if it continues to be without three of its starting offensive linemen, and while left tackle Russell Okung won’t be back for at least another six weeks, all eyes will be on Unger to see if he can return for Week 5 at Indianapolis. Right tackle Breno Giacomini underwent arthroscopic knee surgery Monday morning and is expected to miss at least another week.
Three things we’re still trying to figure out:
1. Did Golden Tate have a good day as Seattle’s punt returner?
His 32-yard return kick-started what turned out to be Seattle’s game-winning drive, but that was a punt Tate had no business fielding. Returners are generally told not to catch a ball if it will land inside his own 10-yard line. Both of Tate’s feet were in the end zone when he caught it. Then there was the punt he caught at his own 3, stepping out of bounds immediately afterward. Tate makes you hold your breath as the punt returner, and that’s not always a good thing.
2. How much of a toll will this month take on Russell Wilson?
Wilson’s effectiveness as a runner in the fourth quarter was a reminder of how dangerous he is as a scrambler and evoked memories of that win in Chicago last December. The third-quarter hit he took from Watt near the Houston sideline after he released a pass was a reminder of the danger that’s inherent when the quarterback decides to beat feet.
As steady as Wilson has been during Seattle’s 4-0 start, he’s also taken more hard shots the first month of this season than he did the entire second half of last year. That doesn’t mean Seattle should shy away from Wilson’s mobility, but it does mean the Seahawks have to think about using a little more discretion to keep Wilson healthy enough to perform. It’s not just a long-term injury that is a danger, but the cumulative effect that a season full of weekly beatings would take on his performance.
3. What is Seattle’s pass rush going to look like with Bruce Irvin?
Irvin returns Monday after serving his four-game suspension for testing positive for a banned substance, and he comes back to a defense whose pass rush came alive on the second half in Houston. Seattle had four sacks in the second half and overtime, including one by Cliff Avril and the first of the season for Chris Clemons.
Add Irvin to that mix after he led all NFL rookies with eight sacks last season, and while he’ll be playing linebacker, Seattle’s going to have a selection of pass rushers that is as volatile as it is versatile. As well as Seattle’s defense played in the second half in Houston, there’s a distinct possibility it’s about to get better.