Focus on: First-quarter honor roll

Posted Oct 1, 2013

The Seahawks are 4-0 for a lot of reasons, and because of the performances of a lot players, which only makes selecting the best of the best from the first quarter of the season a losing proposition.

So, who has been the Seahawks’ MVP during the first 4-0 start in franchise history? Or the best offensive player? Or the best player on a defense that ranks second in the NFL in average points allowed and fifth in average yards allowed?

The Seahawks are 4-0 for a lot of reasons; too many when it comes to what was a daunting task in selecting the best of the best from the Seahawks’ best-ever start. We sought advice from players, coaches and scouts, but their input only muddled the masses of contributors even more. There are simply too many candidates for most of the honors.

“Isn’t that the way you want?” defensive backs coach Kris Richard asked through a smile.

Well, yes, but no. Not when the tradition of handing out first-quarter awards must go on. So, here we go:

MVP: Richard Sherman. No matter how many directions we went on this one – which was many, because so many deserve recognition – the path kept leading back to the team’s All-Pro cornerback. The best part of the team has been the defense. The best part of that unit has been the pass defense. The best player in the best, and deepest, secondary in the NFL has been Sherman. He not only has two interceptions, his 58-yard pick-six late in the fourth quarter allowed the Seahawks to send Sunday’s game against the Texans into overtime. In the home opener, he pitched a shutout against Anquan Boldin, who was coming off a 13-catch, 208-yard performance in the 49ers’ season opener. As good as Sherman was last season, it’s gotten to the point where it creates a what-just-happened reaction when a receiver actually catches a pass against him. As coach Pete Carroll said on Monday, “I think Richard is playing terrific football.”   

Best offensive player: Marshawn Lynch. His Beast Mode impact hasn’t been as consistently beastly so far, but that’s because he is running into defenses determined to stop him and behind an injury-depleted line. His rushing yards are down (308, compared to 423 at the quarter-pole last season). His rushing average is down (3.9 yards, compared to 4.6 at this point last season). His 100-yard efforts are down (none, compared to two after four games last season). But his scoring plays are up (four, twice as many as he had last September). It was Lynch’s 3-yard TD run that capped the got-to-have-it, 14-play, 98-yard drive in the fourth quarter on Sunday. It was his three-TD performance that put the wallop in the Week 2 KO of the defending NFC Champion 49ers. It was his “Hey, Russ, just take over” advice to Russell Wilson that led to the second-year QB running for 53 yards and passing for 46 on that drive to stay alive against the Texans.

Best defensive player, not named Richard Sherman: Earl Thomas. The All-Pro free safety really has been in the middle of everything good that has happened to the Seahawks. And not just on the field on game day, but on the practice field, in the locker room and on the sideline. He has become the metronome that sets the pace for the way Carroll wants his players to practice and play. But there’s also that lead-by-example element, as each of Thomas’ two interceptions have come in the red zone and the player they call “Deuce” also is second on the team in tackles (26).

Best special teams player: Jeremy Lane. This easily could have been Steven Hauschka, who not only kicked the first game-winner of his career in overtime against the Texans on Sunday but has been kicking the air out of the ball. Hauschka is perfect – 8 of 8 on field goals and 11 of 11 on PATs. He’s also put 18 of his 24 kickoffs so deep into the end zone, or out of it, for touchbacks. But Lane has been the leader of the pack in doing the dirty work on the coverage units. He leads the Seahawks’ No. 2-ranked special teams with four tackles, and also was selected the special teams player on the first-quarter All-Pro team that was included in Peter King’s “Monday Morning Quarterback” this week.

Most resilient player: Russell Wilson. He could easily be the MVP and maybe should have been the pick for best offensive player, because the Seahawks would not be 4-0 without the at-times uncanny efforts of their second-year QB. We’ve already touched on Wilson’s efforts in that crucial fourth-quarter drive against the Texans, but you also could make the case that he willed the Seahawks to its season-opening victory against the Panthers in Carolina and then there was his four-TD pass performance against the Jaguars in Week 3. Four games into his second season, Wilson already has directed seven game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime – eight if you count doing it in the fourth quarter and then again in overtime against the Bears last season. And as long as we’re talking resilience here, Wilson started the opener 1 of 5 before completing 24 of his final 28 passes; and was 1 of 9 for 1 yard against the 49ers before completing 7 of his last 10 passes.

Best rookie: Luke Willson and Michael Bowie. Unlike last year’s class that featured Wilson, middle linebacker and leading tackler Bobby Wagner and Bruce Irvin, who led all NFL rookies with eight sacks, this year’s group hasn’t come close to making that kind of impact. But then Carroll called that at the end of last season, when he said it would difficult for this year’s draft choice to even make the team. Of the five who are on the 53-man roster, Willson and Bowie have played the most. Willson, the No. 2 tight end, has caught five passes and been a better blocker than expected. Bowie is starting at right tackle for an injured Breno Giacomini and did as well as could be expected in his matchup with reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt in Houston.

Best free-agent addition: Michael Bennett. Finally, a category where the selection was easy, because it’s so obvious. As Carroll put it, “He’s more than what we thought he was.” Despite missing the second half and overtime period against the Texans because he was taken off the field on a stretcher and to a Houston hospital, Bennett shares the team lead in sacks (2.5) and leads the defense in quarterback hits (nine). But the real key with Bennett has been how many positions he has made plays from. In the Week 3 win over the Jaguars, he lined up at five different spots along the line – from Leo end to nose tackle.

Best re-signing: Clinton McDonald. Released on the roster cut to 53 players in late August, McDonald got a late-in-the-week call before the home opener against the 49ers because nose tackle Brandon Mebane and three-technique Tony McDaniel had injuries. Now, look who shares the sack lead with Bennett. McDonald also has 10 tackles and four QB hits while working in the tackle rotation.

Best offensive play: Doug Baldwin’s tippy-toe act along the sideline to catch a 24-yard pass from Wilson against the Texans. It was tempting to dig deeper, because Baldwin’s catch came from the most recent game. But without his effort on that third-and-7 play from the 5-yard line, Jon Ryan would have had to punt out of the end zone and the Seahawks do not win the game. Instead, the Seahawks had a first down on the 29 and 11 plays later Lynch scored on a 3-yard run to make it 20-13 with 7½ minutes left in regulation.  

Best defensive play: Sherman’s pick-six that came five minutes after Lynch’s TD run and tied the score at 20. Again, there’s that thought of it’s the most memorable because it’s the most recent big play by a big-play defense. Without Sherman’s 58-yard TD return, however, the Seahawks do not win the game. But this one gets bonus points for another reason: The Seahawks had practiced the play on Friday that turned into “the play” on Sunday. There is not a better way for the coaches to get, and maintain, the players’ attention than that.

Best special teams play: Hauschka’s 45-yard field that did win Sunday’s game with less than 3½ minutes remaining in the overtime period. Again, it was the latest. But again, it was the greatest. As good as Hauschka has been in the first four games, that was the first game-winner of his career.

Worst stat: 32 for 269. That’s penalties and wrong-way yards in four games. Only four teams have been penalized more, and just seven have more penalty yards. It hasn’t cost the Seahawks anything but field position and down-and-distance to this point, but it could if it continues.

Best stat: The defense has forced four red-zone turnovers – interceptions by Thomas against the 49ers and Texans; and interceptions by Wagner and strong safety Kam Chancellor against the Jaguars. That’s as many as the Seahawks had in the red zone all of last season. 

Worst trend: Injuries on the offensive line. Playing without Pro Bowl left tackle Russell Okung in Week 3 was one thing. Adding All-Pro center Max Unger to the can’t-play list last week was another thing. Having Giacomini out indefinitely after he had a surgical procedure Monday on a bothersome knee makes it too many things. Paul McQuistan, Lemuel Jeanpierre and Bowie have stepped in admirably, but even Carroll used the terms “survived” when discussing how the revamped line performed.  

Best trend: Winning, of course. The Seahawks aren’t just 4-0 this season; they’re 16-2 the last 18 times they’ve stepped on the field for a game – including playoffs and the preseason. But dig a little deeper and there’s that 21-3 record under Carroll when they win the turnover battle. No wonder he’s always saying, “It’s all about the ball.”