The key word for this team is, “Growth.” Last week there were a collection of lessons-learned on full display. Whether that translates into more wins than losses is another thing altogether. But, it was fun to see this team apply those learnings in a game they won that could have gone south.
First of all was young QB Sam Howell displaying a few skills that were not there earlier in the year. Starting in the second half of the Giants game Howell began recognizing blitzes and subsequently calling protections. Don “Wink” Martindale threw the kitchen sink at him. It worked well enough that Howell was completely ineffective in the first half. But, to borrow an old duck-hunting phrase, Wink “Dumped the gun” on him in that half. By the second half Howell and Eric Bieniemy had seen the gauntlet. Two weeks later Howell was in full command of recognition and protection against Bill Belichick‘s defense. Not an easy task for young QBs to complete. Facing a “Cover Zero” (Both Safeties coming on the blitz) Howell called for maximum protection. He then heaved a beauty of a ball to Jahan Dotson for a 33-yard touchdown.
The logical question to ask is; if he can make this throw what throw is it exactly he cannot make?
When pressured Howell started to extend plays a la’ Aaron Rodgers. Earlier in the year he would just take off and run. It was a great piece of development for the young QB. Then again, he is young. As is the wont of green QBs he got greedy near the end zone. His interception there was so, so bad. Given how well he had played all game up to that point it came as a bit of a shock. It was the type of thing that could put an athlete into a funk. One thing we are learning about Howell is that he’s not that kind of athlete. Shaking it off and having a good second half was a pleasant sight. Howell may not win any awards. But, he has won the team. Two weeks ago a visibly frustrated Defensive End Jonathan Allen ripped off an expletive-laden tirade. Fast forward two weeks and Allen declared Howell to be the long sought Franchise QB: “He’s our quarterback. And I think we found our next one for the (next) five, 10 years,”
Then there was the business of a non-completed yet ruled completed pass. The Eagles got away with a big one the week prior on a DaVonta Smith drop. Then the offense sprinted to the line while Ron Rivera waited for a replay that came too late. Timeouts are solid platinum. Challenges are solid gold. A coach only gets two. An unsuccessful challenge carries a double whammy: Not only is the timeout lost, the opportunity to challenge is now limited to one. If you think of the challenge flag as Barney Fife’s lone bullet it’s easy to understand the reticence to use it in the face of uncertainty. Obviously the team’s afterguard had pondered this situation.
New England receiver Demario Douglas apparently caught a 22-yard pass for a first down. The Washington sideline erupted with staffers signaling incomplete. As New England sprinted towards the line Defensive End James Smith-Williams went to the ground as if struck by a moving van. During the Injury Timeout there was enough time to review the play in true Zapruder Film fashion. By the time Ron threw the red flag everyone associated with the game knew it was incomplete including New England. Smith-Williams returned to the game shortly thereafter. It was a brilliant tactic expertly executed. The team had learned something.
Seattle is a young city. Settlement didn’t start until 1851. For an area saturated with valuable natural resources development came slowly. Merchandise and settlers from the East Coast had two routes. One was the perilous sail around Cape Horn. The other was overland by horse or mule team drawn wagons. It had its own set of perils. The Transcontinental Railroad completion in 1869 changed things immensely. Then the Panama Canal opened in 1914. No longer isolated Seattle promptly exploded. In 1974 the Seahawk franchise was established. Two years after that they played their first game. One year later the Mariners were established making Seattle a bona fide Major League City.
Ten-years after their only Super Bowl win this Seahawks team is a bit confounding. Their QB is long time backup Geno Smith. Last year was a breakout season for him as he threw for 30 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions. It was a fabulous stroke of good fortune for Pete Carroll. He had traded away longtime franchise QB Russell Wilson for a boatload of draft picks. The question afterwards was, “Who’s QB1?” Pulling Smith off the pantry shelf was a bold move that paid great dividends. This year is a different story. Smith has thrown 9 TDs against 7 picks. The team picks up less than one-third of its first downs while allowing other teams nearly one-half of theirs.
The team’s three losses are a mixed bag. Sean McVay‘s Rams ambushed them in the opener, at the Seahawks’ imposing digs, Lumen Field. They lost two games on the road. One was to Joe Burrow and the Bengals just as Joe’s ailing calf got better. Then last week they were shockingly boat raced by the Ravens in Baltimore 37-3. Don’t read too much into that game. NFC teams facing Lamar Jackson are a combined 1-18. Detroit is the #2 seed in the NFC at the moment. They also had no answer for a modern-day Gayle Sayers with an arm. If anything expect them to be plenty salty. Their Defense had averaged less than 97-yards allowed per game rushing until last week when Baltimore pasted 298-yards on them.
Seattle features a pair of hulking Wide Receivers in Jaxson SmithNjigba and D.K. Metcalf. Big Wide Receivers have been an issue for Washington’s secondary none more so than Philly’s A.J. Brown. Expect the run-heavy Seahawks to go after the secondary with plenty of play-action passing.
Pete Carroll’s team also has old Giants’ foe Leonard Williams. Washington traded away two very good Edge rushers for good draft compensation. New York traded their Defensive Captain, picking up nearly all of his salary. In effect New York purchased a second-round pick. The move has not gone over well in the Giants’ Locker Room. On the other hand Ron Rivera’s team responded with a high energy effort last week.
More of the same high energy will be needed this week. Winning in the loud sound factory that is Lumen Field is always a tough order for the road team. But, the prize sitting there is the possibility of climbing into a race for the last Wild Card spot. Right now the WFT is the #8 seed, one game behind Minnesota. The Vikings won a game last week behind Joshua Dobbs He being the career backup making his way onto his third team this year. He arrived less than a week before being thrown into a game. Now he has been handed the starting job. Minnesota can be caught and passed. A win this week would crack back open a door towards the elusive winning season. A loss lengthens the odds considerably. This is a pivot point game. A continued display of growth by the club would be a good thing indeed.