…And They’re Deep, Too

December 3, 2013 by Peter King

Nobody saw Seattle 34, New Orleans 7 coming. That’s because the Saints are good, and because so many Seahawks we didn’t know vaulted into America’s living room Monday night with superb performances, driving home the point safety Earl Thomas used as his mantra in the defensive backs meeting room last week.

We are all starters.

“That’s the culture here,’’ cornerback Byron Maxwell told me early this morning, after the first start of his life came on Monday Night Football. “You get drafted here, and you’re just preparing for the time when it’s your turn. It’s next man up. This game was my turn.’’

Because of the injuries/discipline to starter Brandon Browner and nickel corner Walter Thurmond, Maxwell took his place opposite Richard Sherman, with fellow heir to the lineup Jeremy Lane taking nickel reps against Drew Brees. “It’s a long season,’’ Maxwell said, “and every guy on the roster better be able to play quality football when you need it at some point.’’

It didn’t just happen at the corner position. On the defensive line, a backup waived by the Bengals, Clinton McDonald, pestered Brees consistently and helped the Seattle defense hold Brees to his first game under 200 yards passing in his past 43 starts. At linebacker, unsung K.J. Wright took consistent turns shadowing/punishing all-world tight end Jimmy Graham, and he contributed seven tackles.

As New Orleans desperately tried to get back into the game in the third quarter, the depth won the night. On one series midway through the quarter, Maxwell jarred the ball loose on a potential long gainer to Graham. Next snap: McDonald, covering Graham, dogged him into another incompletion. On third down, Wright caught the slippery Darren Sproles behind the line for a four-yard loss.

K.J. Wright (50) ... (Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
K.J. Wright (50), here with assistance from Tony McDaniel, kept Jimmy Graham under wraps Monday night. (Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

The backup brigade was better on the next series, which bled into the start of the fourth quarter. Deep downfield on what would have been a touchdown, Wright leaped to break up a perfect throw from Brees to Benjamin Watson. On the next play, Maxwell broke up another potential touchdown pass to Robert Meachem.

“I should have had that ball,’’ said Maxwell.

In other words, it wasn’t good enough for him to break it up. Maxwell wanted to steal it. That’s what’s been drummed into his head for three seasons: When the ball’s in the air, it’s yours.

Look at the other stars of the day: Russell Wilson, third-round pick. Richard Sherman, fifth-round pick. Wright was a fourth-rounder, Maxwell and Lane picked in the sixth. When Wilson was asked about big plays in the game, he pointed to a back-shoulder catch by undrafted free-agent Jermaine Kearse (from the 2012 rookie class) just before halftime.

One of the reasons Seattle was able to go out this offseason and spend free-agent money and big contract money for the Cliff Avrils and Percy Harvins is because of the productivity of the lesser players. The offensive touchdown makers Monday night—undrafted free agent wideout Doug Baldwin, street free-agent fullback Derrick Coleman, and unrestricted free-agent tight end Zach Miller—cost Seattle exactly zero draft choices.

So take a bow, Seattle GM John Schneider. Coach Pete Carroll and the two coordinators—Darrell Bevell and Dan Quinn—should take some pats on the back too.

MMQB Mail

Don't miss the mailbag on Page 2, where Peter King answers readers' questions about many topics, including why Riley Cooper's production matters and how the NFL feels about booting kickers from the game.

Seattle’s rout of the Saints, complete and thorough and humbling for the visitors to the Pacific Northwest Monday night, happened because the players— the ones Schneider drafted and Carroll’s crew coached—got it done.

“Throughout the roster, that’s what we do here with the Seahawks,’’ Maxwell said. “It shows we got depth. All of us, we just want to play ball. We want to show we deserve to be here.”

One more point about the outcome Monday night, and its meaning: Seattle holds a two-game lead in the NFC home-field advantage derby over both New Orleans and Carolina entering the final four weeks of the regular season. But it’s actually more than that. Because Seattle has beaten both teams, it holds the tiebreaker against them. Which means: If Seattle goes 1-3 down the stretch (against the 49ers and Giants on the road, Cards and Rams at home), either Carolina or New Orleans would have to 4-0 to win the top seed in the conference. Tough duty, considering the Panthers and Saints play each other twice in the last four weeks.

All in all, a tremendous night for Seattle and its full 53-man roster. A dispiriting night for the rest of the NFC.

   

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Now let’s head to page 2 for your email:

After back-to-back 200-yard games, Browns receiver Josh Gordon has 1,249 receiving yards on the season and is only 50 behind Calvin Johnson for the NFL lead. (Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
After back-to-back 200-yard games, Browns receiver Josh Gordon has 1,249 receiving yards on the season and is only 50 behind Calvin Johnson for the NFL lead. (Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

GOOD FOR GORDON, BAD FOR ME. I just finished reading MMQB and am amazed at the Josh Gordon omission by you. Eric Decker’s and Alshon Jeffery’s great games were highlighted, but not one mention of Josh Gordon and the fact he is the only WR with two consecutive 200-yard receiving games? I would think that was at least as newsworthy, if not more so. What gives and what am I missing?

—John

I received dozens of emails like yours, John. That was a mistake on my part not to mention Gordon. I usually do not name players as Players of the Week two weeks in a row, and Gordon was one of my Offensive Players of the Week last week. Still, this was a fairly extraordinary circumstance: the first time a player has had two consecutive 200-yard receiving games in the regular season in NFL history. I was wrong not to write something about him and you are right to point it out.

FOOTBALL. EMPHASIS ON THE FIRST SYLLABLE. Extra points are near 100 percent and Justin Tucker has made 93 percent of his field goals—we all agree, how boring! My simple solution—no more kickers. Instead let’s run one play for the points. For an extra point, one play from the 1-yard line. For field goals, you must be inside the 40 and then you can choose to run a play for the three points. From the 30-39 yard line, move the ball to the 6-yard line for one play; 20-29 move to the 5; 10-19 to the 4, 0-9 to the 3. It’s a simple solution and the result is exciting with creative play calling at its finest.

—Scott Thompson

The one point I have about all of your various ideas for eliminating extra points and field goals is I don’t think the NFL wants to take the “foot” out of football. I don’t think  they want to eliminate the field goal. I think they want to work on ways to make the field goal not as automatic as it is right now. Your ideas are intriguing, and I’m very much in favor of anything that would make field goals either more challenging, or to make it different conceptually. The best idea I’ve heard is a simple narrowing of the goal post. I don’t think the NFL is going to do anything to eliminate the field goal itself.

ZACH LINE UPDATE. I was hoping we could read more about Zach Line. My understanding was that no matter what happened to him (season-ending IR), we would continue to get insight on the life of a undrafted hopeful. I was excited to learn about him making the team, disappointed to hear about the injury and timing that led to him being placed on the IR. I understand it’s likely a less interesting story now that he isn’t going to compete in games, but what is he doing on a daily basis? Working out? Studying tape? Playing Madden 2013 on his XBox after trading Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart for a cornerback?

—Matt

This is a very good idea. You’re right. I’m going to ask Jenny Vrentas to do another installment in the Zach Line series soon and I appreciate you reminding us that he’s an interesting character. The MMQB readers really have identified with his quest for a pro football career. So thank you.

RILEY COOPER BACKLASH. You wrote in MMQB that it was Chip Kelly’s best decision this year to give Riley Cooper another chance. Why? Because he’s playing well? I’m not saying that Cooper should or should not have been forgiven or given another chance (I believe that was up to his teammates, and it sounds like most of them supported him), but to say that his recent success validates Chip’s decision is shortsighted. Does that mean any superstar should get a free pass because they’re expected to excel? The punishment of any poor decision should not reflect the expected (or actual) production of the athlete, but rather the extent of their misgivings. I’m disappointed, Peter.

—Steven W., NYC

Self-Belief in Seattle

Jim Trotter was at CenturyLink for the beatdown of the Saints, and found the Seahawks’ biggest advantage isn’t the seismic crowd support but the players’ own confidence.

Here’s my question for you: if a person makes a terrible mistake and he asks forgiveness for the mistake, and he is granted conditional forgiveness—that is, he is basically told to prove that he means what he said in his apology—and then he spends the next four months doing all the right things, and then he has some success on the field to help his team win, is it not worth our praise?

Look, I understand your point. You believe I wouldn’t have praised the decision if Riley Cooper were not playing well. You might be right. I might not have taken much notice of him if he were inactive most weeks and just a marginal player. But the fact is he has played well and, by every report, has been a model citizen. I’m sorry that you’re disappointed in me, but this is a production business. Cooper was given another shot on the team, and he is producing. I think Kelly read the situation correctly, gave the guy another chance and is being rewarded. It’s not a good decision. As of now, it’s a great decision.

MORE RULES? If the NFL wants to be able to apply the Rooney Rule to head coaching candidates, then it must be applied to the entire “coaching pipeline.” How can you expect that new minority coaches who have not had the same opportunities as whites to be as qualified when they interview? I assert that if the NFL wants the Rooney Rule to work as intended, then they need to expand the scope and include coordinators and position coaches. Grooming minorities at the lower levels will ensure they have a fair opportunity at the head coaching level.

—Shane, Warner Robins, Ga.

I think you are right in wanting the Rooney Rule to spread down to lesser positions on the coaching staff. That’s smart. But I believe that one of the things you can’t do in this business is over-legislate the effort to do anything. One of the things that this new NFL committee is making sure that it does is to advance the cause of some white head coaching candidates just to be sure that everyone is getting an equal opportunity to get head coaching interviews. I’ll be interested to see if the league’s initiative works. In my opinion, over the years, the smartest owners have had an open mind entering their head coaching searches. When that happens, Mike Tomlin gets hired, and John Harbaugh gets hired.