The Seahawks played one great half of football and one infuriating half of football in earning a 27-20 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.
On the surface, the reaction to such a victory should be pretty positive. The Seahawks are 4-0 on the road to open a season for the first time in 39 years. The win improved to Seattle to 6-2 to wrap up the first half of the schedule and keep the team firmly planted in the playoff picture. And yet, the way the game against Atlanta unfolded left much to be desired.
The defense allowed over 500 yards and 460 yards passing to backup quarterback Matt Schaub. They allowed Atlanta to score on four of their five second half possessions to cut a commanding lead to a one-score game in the closing minutes. An offense that averaged 6.5 yards per carry in the first half sputtered and put together just one competent drive after halftime.
"That's lousy on our part that that happened. It should not happen like that," head coach Pete Carroll said afterward. "I didn't do a good enough job in the transition from the first half to the second half. Obviously. We got knocked all over the place, so I've got to do a better job making sense of the situation and all that and play better."
While the second half won't be remembered fondly, the Seahawks did enough in the first half to get the win anyway. Here are the takeaways from Sunday's win in Atlanta.
-- Second half slide was concerning.
It was understandable that the Seahawks would attempt to run out the clock in the second half with a 24-point lead and a rushing attack that put up 130 yards on the ground in the first 30 minutes. It was understandable to lean on a ball-control attack and defense that had shut out the Falcons and forced two turnovers in the first half of play.
But that strategy spiraled out of control in the second half as the offense sputtered, the defense was staggered and the Falcons found a rhythm to make an apparent blowout rather uncomfortable in the end.
"I didn't do a good enough job," Carroll said. "I'm telling you, obviously. They went out there and we looked like we were a totally different team. There's a lot of things. I'm not going to go into it, but there's a lot of things when you don't play well and I've just got to do a better job making sure that that doesn't happen."
The Seahawks offense gained a first down on just one of five second half possessions. Atlanta out-gained Seattle by a 346-82 margin.
If not for a borderline forced fumble by Marquise Blair on Devonta Freeman that turned away the Falcons at the goal line, and the ensuing 58-yard drive that took nearly seven minutes off the clock before a 54-yard Jason Myers field goal, the Seahawks may have seen their entire lead evaporate.
It didn't. The Seahawks still did enough to get the win. But the six-hour flight back from Atlanta may not be quite as jovial as it appeared it would be when a 24-0 lead was in their pocket.
"It was just mistakes, penalties and stuff like that," Carroll said. "It just got real sloppy, just didn't maintain the focus that it takes to keep going like we were going."
-- Seahawks experimented with unusual amounts of different personnel groups throughout the game.
The Seahawks used a large number of personnel combinations on both sides of the football on Sunday.
Duane Brown, D.J. Fluker and Mike Iupati all rotated in and out along the offensive line with Jamarco Jones and George Fant. Akeem King started at right cornerback in place of Tre Flowers, but was replaced in spurts by Neiko Thorpe as well. Tedric Thompson, Marquise Blair and Bradley McDougald all played at safety and Cody Barton even saw some snaps at linebacker in place of K.J. Wright.
"Guys are just deserving an opportunity to get in the game and if we have a chance to not overwork guys we're trying to do that. It's a long haul. We're only halfway through, you know," Carroll said. "Just trying to make good decisions to get that done."
Brown, Fluker and McDougald had all been dealing with injuries heading into the game, but the majority of the swapping of pieces appeared to be deliberate and experimental. McDougald's time was limited due to the amount of practice he had missed while dealing with back spasms. Carroll said they only wanted to play him in an emergency because of his lack of practice time the last two weeks.
"He was an emergency guy for us because he just barely made it back on Friday," Carroll said. "We didn't want to play him. Marquise had some cramps and had to come out for a little bit."
Carroll has spoken highly of some of the younger pieces on the team but has lacked obvious opportunities to play them at times. DK Metcalf has been the only regular contributor from the team's rookie class until recent weeks when L.J. Collier and Blair has earned more playing time. Now Barton is getting a chance to get his feet wet too. Jones has played well as a backup lineman and may push for a starting role sooner than later as well.
-- Marquise Blair shows he's worthy of increased role.
As long as we're talking about young players making an impression, Marquise Blair has shown he's capable of handling a bigger role in Seattle's defense.
With McDougald sidelined for the last two weeks with back spasms, Blair has looked comfortable and made plays for the Seahawks. He's one of few players on that side of the ball
"I thought Marquise showed up," Carroll said. "Nice job by him a couple times making his hits, forcing that fumble down by the goal line."
Blair's forced fumble on Freeman in the fourth quarter was one of few positive defensive plays in the second half. He led the team in tackles with 11 in only his second career start. He made a fantastic sprawling tackle on Freeman on a pass that could have gone for a big gain and instead was limited to just four yards.
"Just going after the football," Carroll said. "He's tough, man. He showed his hitting ability. Really every game he's played he's made some hits that he jumps out. That's what we loved about him when we drafted him and he continues to show that. He's got a real knack for knocking the fire out of people and we love his style."
Even with the addition of Quandre Diggs, Blair's emergence gives Seattle more options in their secondary.
Carroll said last Monday that Blair has earned a right to play more. It appears as though his performance in Atlanta on Sunday would only further that reality.
-- Loss of Justin Britt will be a big issue moving forward.
Starting center Justin Britt was lost to a knee injury on just the sixth play of the game. Britt's left knee buckled and he immediately grabbed for that area as trainers attended to him on the field. While Britt left the field under his own power, he tossed him helmet down in anger and was ruled out shortly thereafter.
"Unfortunately, Justin Britt got hurt. Hurt his knee," Carroll said. "We'll know more but it looks like he's got something that's going to keep him out and we'll see what happens. ... Let's just wait and see but it looks like an ACL, acts like it."
The loss of Britt would be significant for Seattle. He has completely missed just one game during his six seasons with the Seahawks. Britt was inactive for a 2016 game at Tampa Bay and was active, but played only on special teams as a reserve for a game against Dallas last season.
Joey Hunt took over at center in place of Britt on Sunday in Atlanta. He started both games Britt has missed over the last few seasons.
"Joey has been preparing for this opportunity forever," Carroll said. "He's been a great worker and a total team guy and he'll do a really good job filling the spot, really smart guy and he's ready to go.
"Joey did really well. Joey has always done well when he plays. He absolutely knows our stuff cold. He's a great communicator, totally different style player and athlete and all that. He always gets the job done and he will. He'll do a fine job for us."
Ethan Pocic is on injured reserve and would not be an option to return until the team's December 8 game against the Los Angeles Rams. The Seahawks will need a reserve center in the interim. There isn't an obvious choice currently on the active roster.
Kyle Fuller has spent the season on the practice after being released by Miami at the end of training camp. Fuller was a college center and has played both center and guard in the NFL. He's appeared in 11 games for the Houston Texans and Washington Redskins and may be the most obvious patch in the short-term. Perhaps Phil Haynes - set to return from the physically unable to perform list in the near future - could serve in the role with some time as well.
Photo Credit: ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 27: Chris Carson #32 of the Seattle Seahawks rushes in for a touchdown as Ricardo Allen #37 of the Atlanta Falcons defends in the first half of an NFL game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on October 27, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)