Running game and turnovers the key for Seahawks in getting their first win of the 2018 season.
Earl Thomas put a nice little bow on Seattle’s 24-13 victory over Dallas on Sunday, his two-interception performance and nod to the Cowboys’ bench likely to serve as the lasting memory of a victory the Seahawk had to have to make much of the 2018 season.
But he was hardly alone in contributing to Seattle’s win.
Here’s my weekly look back at the Seahawks’ most recent game, reviewing what I regarded as the keys to the game beforehand, and how they turned out.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
WHAT I SAID: Seattle MLB Bobby Wagner vs. Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott.
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WHAT HAPPENED: Statistically, Seattle hardly put the clamps on Elliott, who had 127 yards on 16 carries, averaging 7.9 per attempt (and if you want to find something to worry about, the Seahawks are now 29th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game, at 132.7, and 28th in yards per attempt at 5.1). But somehow it felt like all those yards didn’t really matter all that much — 49 came on three attempts in the fourth quarter after Seattle had taken a 24-6 lead. Wagner set an early tone for stopping Elliott when it mattered, tackling him for a 1-yard loss on a third-and-one on Dallas’ opening possession of the game.
WHAT I COULD ALSO HAVE SAID: Seattle’s secondary vs. Dallas’ receivers.
This proved to be the biggest mismatch of the game as a Cowboys receiving corps regarded as a weakness did nothing to dissuade that notion. If a good running game sets up the pass, Dallas didn’t show it Sunday as Dak Prescott threw for just 168 yards with two interceptions that each were tipped by a Seattle defender, and with no gain longer than 20 yards.
PLAYER TO WATCH
WHAT I SAID: Seattle QB Russell Wilson.
WHAT HAPPENED: Wilson played his steadiest game of the season, avoiding the mistakes of the first two weeks, taking what the Dallas defense was giving him, and making accurate throws when he had to, notably the touchdown tosses to Jaron Brown and Tyler Lockett in the second quarter. Seattle coach Pete Carroll also gave Wilson ample credit for his management of the offense. Wilson has seven touchdown passes, tied for sixth in the NFL, and is on pace for 37, which would be a Seahawks season record. And this comes despite Wilson having leading receiver Doug Baldwin for only one half of one game.
WHAT I COULD ALSO HAVE SAID: Seattle FS Earl Thomas.
In fact, I mentioned Thomas as a second player to watch. As it turned out, he was the star attraction with his two interceptions following a morning of national media-fueled speculation he could be fined for skipping practices or could also be traded soon. Then he somehow made even more news with one of the most candid postgame interviews any player has ever given, saying he’s just fine with getting fined as long as he can protect his body until he gets his next payday. So much for all those offseason stories about the quieter Seahawks.
COACHING DECISION TO WATCH
WHAT I SAID: Are they going to run the damn ball?
WHAT HAPPENED: Yes, indeed they ran the darn ball.
They ran 39 times in all, with Chris Carson getting 32, the most by any Seahawk since Shaun Alexander had a team-record 40 against the Packers in 2006. The team rushing attempts was the most since 2015 and doubled the 38 the team combined for in the first two games. However, Seattle averaged just 2.9 yards per carry, which leaves the question of how effective the running game was open for debate.
Still, after an offseason of talk about reviving the run and two games of not doing it, it was clear the Seahawks were going to force the issue Sunday. And the early lead allowed Seattle to keep forcing it as the game wore on. But contrary to some thoughts I’ve seen out there, Seattle hardly ran it on first down every time – the Seahawks ran it seven times and threw it seven times on 14 first-down plays in the first half. That ratio skewed in the second half as the Seahawks got into clock-running mode and ran it on first down 11 of 12 times. Some of those numbers won’t work all the time. But Sunday was as much about setting a tone for the rest of the season as anything else.
WHAT I COULD ALSO HAVE SAID: Will Earl Thomas start and play?
The answers were yes and yes, even if we only really began to find out over the weekend, and during Thomas’ interview, how dicey things got last week. This is gonna be the coaching decision to watch now for the rest of the season.
WHAT I SAID: Kris Richard’s knowledge of the Seahawks.
WHAT HAPPENED: Richard, Seattle’s defensive coordinator the past three years and a defensive assistant the five years prior to that, is in his first year with the Cowboys as defensive passing game coordinator, and his familiarity with the Seahawks was billed during the week as a possible advantage for Dallas. But maybe proving how overblown that kind of thing can be (film study of recent games tends to be far more important along with basic execution on game day), Wilson didn’t have a lot of trouble finding some holes to poke in the Dallas secondary.
WHAT I COULD ALSO HAVE SAID: Seattle’s home-field advantage.
There’s little doubt the crowd helped lift a Seahawks team that entered the game 0-2. The victory was Seattle’s 15th in its last 16 home openers, with the Seahawks outscoring those opponents 391-151.
WILD-CARD PLAYER WHO COULD SURPRISE
WHAT I SAID: Seattle free safety Tedric Thompson.
WHAT HAPPENED: Thompson played 13 snaps in Seattle’s dime formation and with somewhat mixed results on paper. His only tackle came on an 18-yard gain that picked up a third-and-seven. But what Carroll might like about the dime formation is that it gets Thomas and Bradley McDougald in different spots from where they usually line up, simply giving opposing quarterbacks another look to prepare for during the week and account for on game day. Seattle’s defense has long been known for its simplicity. But in a year when the Seahawks have fewer proven stars on defense, it makes sense to try a few new things.
WHAT I COULD ALSO HAVE SAID: Center Joey Hunt.
Hunt indeed had to start at center in place of injured Justin Britt — just the second start of his career, and first since 2016. The results spoke well as the Seahawks allowed just two sacks and grinded out a season-high 113 rushing yards. Left tackle Duane Brown said later that the offensive line didn’t miss a beat in the pre-snap communication of its assignments, an important role for a center. Carroll also joked that Britt now has to worry about being “Wally Pipped,” a reference to the Yankees first baseman who was famously benched for Lou Gehrig in 1925.
WHAT I SAID: 9 and 12.
That’s the number of sacks the Cowboys have in two games — tied for second in the NFL — and the number allowed by the Seahawks, which is the most in the NFL.
WHAT HAPPENED: As noted, Seattle allowed just two, and one in the first half as the Seahawks took a 17-3 lead. Meanwhile, Seattle’s defense had a season-high five.
WHAT I COULD ALSO HAVE SAID: Turnover margin.
Seattle forced three while not giving up any, a sure formula for victory in the NFL. Seattle’s eight takeaways through three games is tied for second in the NFL and the Seahawks’ plus-three differential is tied for fourth.
THE FINAL WORD
WHAT I SAID: Seattle 23, Dallas 20.
WHAT HAPPENED: Who knows how good Dallas is — that’s a definite question after seeing the Cowboys up close.
But considering the Seahawks were coming off a short week and facing all sorts of questions of their own about the direction of the season — if not the franchise — it’s hard to find much to pick at from Sunday’s win.