Big plays make all the difference

Sep 26, 2010, 5:35 PM | Updated: Apr 4, 2011, 7:52 pm

By Mike Salk

The 2010 Seahawks now have a signature win over a playoff team – something the 2009 version never accomplished. I’m not sure that this team has that much more overall talent or depth than last year’s team, but they have something that might be more important: playmakers.

Need proof?

Leon Washington had two kickoff returns for touchdowns and nearly had another. Those 14 points were the difference in a one-score game and his 253 return yards were electric to watch. (Washington will join the show at 11:35 am on Monday.)

Earl Thomas had two interceptions, including the game-clincher in his own endzone. How many times have you seen Troy Polamalu or Ed Reed do that? He also came free on a safety blitz which kept the Chargers from converting on third down on their first of two failed trips inside the red zone in the final few minutes.

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(AP Photo/John Froschauer)

Golden Tate didn’t do anything spectacular today but clearly has the playmaking ability in the slot and returning punts.

Heck, I’ll throw Chris Clemons on this list. His two sacks and four hits on Philip Rivers came at big times for a defense that was up against it at times.

It’s great to have a deep team in sports. It’s important to have talent and to play smart. And maybe it’s the big fellas up front that decide who wins over the course of an entire NFL season. But when you are outmatched talent-wise or don’t have the advantage up front, playmakers can make up the difference. Big plays can negate a 518-to-271 yard difference in total offense. They can make a 455-yard outing from Rivers meaningless. They can make us forget a Deion Branch fumble on a sure touchdown. They can mask more than a handful of inaccurate throws from Matt Hasselbeck and a bad interception, too.

The 2009 Seahawks averaged less than 22 yards per kickoff return and did not score a single touchdown returning kicks or punts. With the addition of Washington, they are now averaging 46.3 yards per kick return and the two touchdowns in the second half on Sunday were game changers.

The 2009 Seahawks had just 13 interceptions on the year, averaging just .81 interceptions per game. This year, they have four in just three games and Thomas’s second on Sunday sealed the victory. The difference between the Deon Grant/Jordan Babineaux combo and Thomas/Lawyer Milloy may not have been obvious with the huge day Rivers had yardage-wise. But there is value in bending without breaking, and big plays (and playmakers) tend to lend themselves to that style of defense.

One last thing I loved about the playmaking on Sunday: it was never risky. Remember how Nate Clements and the San Francisco defense took big chances against the Seahawks in Week 1? Yes, it worked for the first interception of the opener, but Hasselbeck and company made them pay for the rest of the game. The Hawks didn’t take on any unnecessary risk against the Chargers; they simply made big plays when they had to be made.

Quick thoughts:

-I’m not sure what is going on with the Seahawks substitution issues but they have to get them corrected. They had to take two avoidable timeouts in the second half of a close game because they didn’t have the right players in the game.

-Brock will break down the details, but it sure seemed like the Hawks were willing to bring pressure on key downs at the end of the game. We didn’t see much of that last year. I liked that they varied it up – sometimes bringing six and sometimes only three or four pass rushers.

-It seemed like the Hawks badly mismanaged the final possession of the first half. First of all, why did they blow a timeout right after the two-minute warning? It left them without a timeout that they could have used at the end of the half.

But why did they spike the ball on second down with the team in position and on the line? It seemed like a waste of a down. Then why wouldn’t Tate give the refs the ball after he jumped in the air and came down just short of the first down line? It cost them a few valuable seconds while he paraded around. Then why call the quarterback sneak on third down? They had no timeouts and therefore no chance to get the field goal unit on if the play didn’t get them into the end zone. It seems like Pete Carroll, Tate and Hasselbeck all needed to be on the same page.

-We know San Diego likes to pick up large chunks of yardage ion the passing game and wondered before the game how Thomas would handle the deep threats. Yes, the Chargers racked up the yards on those big plays, but they were never quite able to break away for touchdowns. Gotta give credit to the secondary in general and especially Thomas.

-So, the Seahawks can beat a good team at home. They go on the road next week but play an inferior Rams team that they should beat. After a bye week, they go to Chicago, host Arizona and go to Oakland. Is 4-2 a possibility? At this point, I think anything less would be a disappointment.

Don’t forget, we’ll be talking to Pete Carroll on Monday morning at 9:20. If you have a question for the coach, click here. If your question is selected, you’ll win two tickets to an upcoming Seahawks game!

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Big plays make all the difference