Who-are-these-guys Seahawks finding ways to win

Posted Nov 11, 2013

Monday metatarsal musings: The Seahawks’ next-man-up mentality is paying dividends in their 9-1 start because of the depth general manager John Schneider has been able to provide coach Pete Carroll.

No Max Unger. No Russell Okung. No Breno Giacomini. No Red Bryant. No Tony McDaniel. No Brandon Browner.

No problem? Apparently not.

The Seahawks started Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome without 933 pounds of starting offensive linemen – Unger, the All-Pro center; Okung, the Pro Bowl left tackle; and Giacomini, the 6-foot-7 right tackle. They also didn’t have the 323-pound Bryant, a run-stuffing defensive end; and then lost the 6-7, 305-pound McDaniel, the starter at the three-technique tackle spot and starting right cornerback Brandon Browner in the second quarter.

Instead, they had Lemuel Jeanpierre, making his eighth NFL start at center; and rookies Michael Bowie and Alvin Bailey shuffling between left tackle, right tackle and even right guard. And the Seahawks rushed for 211 yards.

Instead, they had the versatile and productive Michael Bennett at the five-technique spot for Bryant and a lot of just-signed-from-the-practice-squad-on-Saturday Michael Brooks at the three-technique tackle spot for McDaniel. And the Seahawks allowed 64 rushing yards, after being gashed for 405 in their previous two games against the St. Louis Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

How does this happen? How do backups step in for backbone players and the Seahawks don’t take a step back?

Let Walter Thurmond handle that one. Because it was Thurmond who stepped in for Browner after the starting right cornerback went out in the second quarter with a groin injury.

“That’s just a testament to Pete Carroll and John Schneider being able to find these talented people who are young – a lot of guys that don’t require a lot of money, but are able to play at a high level and are hungry and have chips on their shoulders and have something to prove,” Thurmond said in the locker room at the Georgia Dome.

“That’s probably one of the most dangerous things you can have for a team.”

Carroll, of course, is the very-visible fourth-year coach of the team with the best record in the NFC. Schneider is the fourth-year general manager who also arrived in January of 2010 as almost a package deal with the energetic Carroll. Schneider’s work is done behind the scene, but it has been just as imperative in building the Seahawks team we’re now watching.

Carroll points out Schneider’s efforts – especially early, but also on-going – every chance he gets. But it’s the seeing-is-believing performances like Sunday that say even more. And do it emphatically.

The Seahawks have become such a good team because they have so many good players, but also because they are such a deep team – with players who could start for other teams as backups, and players other teams passed on stepping up when needed to make contributions for this team that isn’t just 9-1 this season but 16-2 since the middle of last season and 14-1 the last 15 times it has taken the field for a regular-season game.

With that said, here’s a look at three other things that worked in Sunday’s 33-10 victory over the Falcons and three things that need work as the Seahawks prepare for this week’s game against the Minnesota Vikings at CenturyLink Field:

What worked

The good-hands guys – Add no Sidney Rice and no Percy Harvin to the above oh-no list. Rice is out for the remainder of the season with a knee injury. Harvin has yet to play because of a hip injury. Again, at least on Sunday, no problem.

Golden Tate turned in the Seahawks’ first 100-yard receiving performance of the season, and the best of his six catches for 106 yards was the one-hander in the left corner of the end zone where he also got both feet in before going out of bounds. Doug Baldwin had five catches for 76 yards, and three first downs. Jermaine Kearse had just three catches, but two were just the latest in his go-up-and-get-it dossier – a 43-yarder in the end zone on a double-pass play and a 23-yarder on third-and-3 on the drive to the second of Steve Hauschka’s four field goals.

“Now we know what we’re capable of,” Tate said, offering a team-wide assessment that also fit his position group. “Now the challenge is going to be to consistently do this. I think it’s time for us to heat up.”   

The defensive swagger – It was back, after this proud unit had been trampled for too many rushing yards and allowed too many big plays in the passing game against the Rams (3-4 at the time) and still-winless Bucs. As All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman put it during an elevator conversation at the team hotel on Saturday, “We need to go out and step on their throats.”

The Seahawks did just that, from the first step. They forced a three-and-out on the game’s opening series as McDaniel stopped Steven Jackson for a 2-yard gain; McDaniel and linebacker K.J. Wright dropped Jackson after a 4-yard gain; and All-Pro free safety Earl Thomas broke up Matt Ryan’s third-down pass to Jackson.

“The first series, I was like, ‘Man, ooh, we’ve got some juice,’ ” Thomas said. “You could see it in everyone’s eyes.”

The kid QB – Connect the dots between the numbers on Russell Wilson’s stat line and it creates a picture that was equal parts efficiency, consistency and resiliency: 19 of 26 for 287 yards, with two TD passes and no interceptions, for a 134.6 passer rating.

It was Wilson’s best passer rating of the season, and second-best of his 26-game career. It was his fourth consecutive game with multiple TD passes, and sixth of the season – two shy of this total from last season. It was his fourth game in the past five without an interception, and fifth of the season.

It was the kind of game everyone has come to expect from Wilson.

“Russell played a really cool football game,” Carroll said. “He took care of business.”

What needs work

Staying healthy – As impressive as the next-man-up performances have been, and continue to be, you can dig only so deep. Unger and Bryant should return this week, and Okung and Giacomini also have a chance to play for the first times since Week 2 (Okung) and Week 3 (Giacomini). Outside the organization, hands continue to wring over just when Harvin might play his first snap as a Seahawk after being acquired in a March trade with the Vikings.

But two more starters were added to the wait-and-see list on Sunday – Browner and McDaniel.

Penalties – A couple of the Seahawks’ nine penalties for 80 yards definitely belong in the questionable-call category. But the Seahawks have had at least six penalties in nine of their 10 games, and more than nine in six.

Fourth-down defense – Picking a nit? Did you see the game? There wasn’t a lot to not like. But the Falcons’ only TD came on a fourth-down pass from Ryan to Darius Johnson, and opponents are 4 of 8 on fourth downs this season.