Closer to figuring out unpredictable Hawks?

Nov 21, 2010, 6:20 PM | Updated: Apr 4, 2011, 7:52 pm

ivory

By Mike Salk

At some point, I’m hoping the Seahawks are going to play a game that helps me understand them better rather than making them harder to figure out. That day may come eventually, but it sure wasn’t the one in New Orleans!

Based on the score, the Seahawks can’t hold a candle to the defending NFL Champs. Right? After all, they were beaten by 15 points and the Saints left at least four points on the board with a missed field goal and extra point. The Saints scored touchdowns on five straight drives and put up nearly 500 yards of total offense. They turned the ball over twice but one of the picks came in the closing seconds in garbage time and the other came in the red zone, negating what could have been another touchdown. Those numbers sure make it sound like the blowout many expected.

On the other hand, anyone who watched this game knows it was closer than those numbers indicate. The Seahawks ran up over 400 yards of offense themselves, and had two promising drives waylaid by Marshawn Lynch fumbles. Three of Olindo Mare’s four field goals came after drives stalled inside the red zone – irritating, yes, but also an indication that they were able to move the ball deep into enemy territory often. Braced by the addition of Russell Okung, the offensive line kept pressure off of Matt Hasselbeck, who took advantage of the time to throw. He was not sacked (although he took one intentional grounding penalty) and threw for 366 yards without allowing an interception.

Perhaps most importantly, it was a game that could have turned over a questionable call near the end of the first half when Raheem Brock was called for an unnecessarily rough hit on Brees. At the time, it was an eight-point game with the Seahawks set to get the ball back. If they had converted on the ensuing drive, they could have been within a point potentially heading into the half. As it was, the Saints made the most of their good fortune, scored a touchdown on the drive and continued on for the win. Was it a bad call? Maybe. Probably. But as we all know, these calls go in both directions and this one was early enough that the Hawks had ample opportunities to overcome it.

But we can safely say that given a few different bounces, it was a game that could have tilted in either direction.

So which game do we look at?

The answer, of course, is likely somewhere in the middle. Yes, the Seahawks did some things and played with the Saints – a 7-3 team likely to head to another playoff run. No, they don’t have the talent to match up with them long term – the Saints have weapons galore on offense and they make only rare mistakes when the game is on the line. Yes, the Seahawks are a feisty bunch which doesn’t give up and can scare any team on any day in any city. No, they can’t survive fumbles and poor tackling especially on the road.

The Seahawks did reveal some new characteristics in New Orleans.

They showed that a team with a physical, punishing running back can beat them up. Chris Ivory ran for 99 yards, and at one point was averaging 6.5 yards per carry while the Hawks missed more than a handful of tackles. He used his size and strength rather than his speed and it seemed to wear down the Hawks front line. The weren’t able to get any pressure on Brees, failing to register a sack and bothering him only with an inside rush which occasionally led to a pass deflected. One might wonder if that was a byproduct of the early physical running.

They showed that they really can throw the ball deep and that last week’s aerial show was not a fluke. Hasselbeck was on the money to both Mike Williams and Ben Obamanu in the first half. One might also wonder how many more similar passes they might have completed had Williams not left the game with an injury.

Unfortunately, they also showed that last week’s failures to convert touchdowns in the red zone may have been an ongoing problem for this team. In a shootout with a team like the Saints, those four point differentials add up in a hurry. The Hawks are going to have to figure out a way to get into the end zone and let Mare kick extra points instead of just field goals.

As of now, though, the Hawks are a .500 team at 5-5. They have plenty of winnable games left though and a division that remains wide open as all four teams lost this week. The playoffs are still a possibility and they are better than expected. But they need to find ways to beat quality opponents.

* * *

-I watched the game on my Slingbox from my family’s home in Boston while they watched the Patriots and Colts on TV. It’s funny, but this game sort of reminded me of a a game the Pats played in 2001. When they rolled into St. Louis to play the defending champion Rams, they too were 5-4. They had won a few games that maybe they shouldn’t have won (courtesy of a new quarterback named Tom Brady and a stingy defense) but they were serious underdogs against the Greatest Show on Turf. Well, they didn’t win that game, but they kept it close and lost 23-16, with an Antowain Smith fumble proving to be the costly play of the game. The Pats lost, but they gained enough confidence from the win that they weren’t intimidated when they saw the Rams a few months later in New Orleans for all the marbles. I’m not saying this Seahawks team is destined for a championship, just that there seemed to be some similarities.

-For the second straight game, Brian Billick was terrible. At one point, he referred to the Seahawks defense as “not physical.” Uh, Brian? I think that’s the one label I could ascribe to their defense (especially the D-line). Later, he became totally confused by the Saints timeout just before the two-minute warning. It seemed fairly obvious that the Saints were trying to preserve enough clock to score again before the end of the half. He called it arrogant, but that seemed anything but arrogant. I figured the Saints were worried the Hawks would score and wanted enough time to score themselves. Bizarre.

-Yes, I chuckled when the Colts lost and yes, I laughed even harder because it was on Peyton Manning’s interception. Ah, sports-hate…

-Yes, of course I think Brad Childress should be fired. Maybe he and Wade Phillips can commiserate together. But if they fire Childress, what will they do with Brett Favre? If they fire the coach, is that a tacit admission that the quarterback who he fights with is in the right? Yikes.

-Say what you want about the Seahawks, and I’m still not convinced they have enough talent to truly succeed, but they continue to play hard for their coach. Down big in New Orleans, they could have packed it up and recognized it wasn’t going to be their day. They didn’t. They worked hard all game and still gave the Saints a late scare with the pick in the end zone, late field goal, and ensuing on-sides kick. That’s a credit to these players and coaches.

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