Possession is the key

Sep 19, 2010, 8:00 PM | Updated: Apr 4, 2011, 7:52 pm

By Mike Salk

Everyone has their own “most important” thing in football. Some say it’s speed, others argue for tackling, still others say quarterback play is the key. And while all of those things are important, I think the most crucial element in football is control of the football, because it is at the very core of the game. Give me a team with a positive turnover margin that does a great job on both offensive and defensive third downs and I’ll take my chances against anyone.

If you want to score, you have to have the ball. And if you want the ball, you have to stop the other team from keeping it. The Seahawks may have wanted the ball on Sunday in Denver, but they had a very tough time getting it! And when they got it, they didn’t keep it.

Turnovers: If you want to win on the road, you usually have to win the turnover battle and the Seahawks failed in that regard. Their impressive opening drive was negated with a bad interception inside the Denver red zone. Then, after a defensive stop, rookie Walter Thurmond muffed a punt inside his own 20 yard line, setting up the Broncos 13-yard touchdown. Instead of marching in for an early lead, the Seahawks found themselves down by seven and had no one to blame but themselves. That was a 14-point swing.

Matt Hasselbeck threw two more picks in this game and the Hawks finished with a minus-4 turnover ratio. It’s tough to score when you can’t control the ball.

Third downs – defense: It was fitting that the final nail in the coffin came on a third-and-three play from the Seahawks’ 21 yard line when Kyle Orton hit Demaryius Thomas for a touchdown to make it 31-7. That completion made the Broncos 14 of 17 on third downs to that point. After one of those three failed conversions, the Broncos kicked a field goal. That means of the 16 times the Seahawks had an opportunity to get the ball back, they were only able to do so twice. Twice. Ugh.

You can’t score without the ball. And if you want that ball back, you have to make the other team give it to you! The Seahawks failed to cause any turnovers and they failed on 14 of their first 16 chances to force a punt. Throw in the hot weather and the thin air in Denver, and the Hawks’ inability to get off the field was a killer.

Third downs – offense: This was actually where the Hawks were best on Sunday. Deon Butler was open three times on the opening drive for third down conversions and Deion Branch was effective as well. In fact, the Hawks converted a respectable 7 of 11 on third down, including one deep pass where they took a chance knowing they were in four-down territory (they converted on fourth down).

But if you have to keep the ball to score, I’m not sure I understand the fourth down play calling in the third quarter. With the game within reach and a fourth-and-two situation from the Denver 20 yard line, the Seahawks elected to throw the ball deep into the end zone to Branch, who was covered (well) by perennial pro-bowler Champ Bailey. The play failed.

“They took away the stuff that we tried to make the first down on,” Pete Carroll said to The Seattle Times. “That’s what Matt had to go to. That was just a chance to capture momentum, and give our guys another boost, to finish this thing off. They did a nice job of covering the stuff we wanted to get the first down on, and he had to put it up just to give us a shot.”

While some may say they should have kicked the 37-yard field goal and others will argue it was a good time to go for the jugular, I will continue to argue that the best way to win is to possess the ball. And throwing deep on fourth-and-two seems like a poor way to do that. I understand the need to take what the defense gives, but fourth down seems like a time for a safer play than the one they ran.

Quick thoughts:

-Golden Tate just makes plays. His first touch came on a punt return for 63 yards. He followed that up with a 52-yard reception, making tacklers miss as he whirled his way down the field. Yes, he contributed 115 yards in two plays. That’s the play-making the Seahawks missed last season. Tate was inactive in week one – maybe that will help him understand how important it is to play this game (and practice) the right way all the time.

-Aaron Curry was silent for much of the game until he finally made a big play in the third quarter, forcing a loss on a bubble screen. After helping to force Denver into a third and 10 situation, Curry then jumped offsides, allowing the Broncos to convert a much simpler third and five. Those mistakes have to stop.

-There should be a role for Deon Butler. Love the way he started strong and made plays on third downs.

-The Hawks running game looked better than at any point last year. Too bad they turned the ball over three times on offense – twice killing drives in the redzone.

-Denver coach Josh McDaniels is a Charlie Weis disciple, which means his offense features a ton of screens. The Seahawks, playing on the road in a loud stadium with a mediocre pass rush, often need to bring extra pass rushers. That’s a bad recipe and it concerned me before this game. Needless to say, I wasn’t shocked when Orton’s 45-yard screen to Knowshon Moreno and his 34-yard bubble screen to Eddie Royal were Denver’s two longest plays of the game from scrimmage.

-Still waiting to see what happens with San Francisco on Monday night, but the Seahawks missed a golden opportunity to take command of this division early. With Arizona getting waxed in Atlanta and San Francisco in danger of imploding early, the Hawks could have sat atop the division.

-Heading into the year, we had so many concerns about the defensive line and after two games, it appears to be more of a strength than a weakness. No, they haven’t forced a ton of pressure, but Colin Cole, Brandon Mebane, Red Bryant and the gang have been stout against the run. They looked immense in short yardage!

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 you’re question is selected, you’ll win two tickets to an upcoming Seahawks game!

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