By Dave Sayers – Seattle Seahawks Writer
The Seahawks flew in to Pittsburgh, and make no bones about it, were widely expected to be on the end of a backlash following the Steelers loss at the Patriots on game week One. NFL Network ran the usual predictions section on Gameday Morning before the game, Rich Eisen, Steve Mariucci, Michael Irvin and Kurt Warner all selected Steelers, and the betting had Big Ben and co as four points favourites. However, on Pete Carroll’s 68th Birthday, Russell Wilson stepped up and made Mike Tomlin pay.
Seahawks kicked away the kick off, and held Ben Roethlisberger to a three and out, with Pittsburgh local Branden Jackson getting the first sack of the game thanks to coverage of the Seahawks secondary. Seattle opened up following the punt and Wilson immediately went to rookie D.K Metcalf for a first down play, only for the much-maligned offensive line to look average, and then awful again. Chris Carson ran for another first down only for the continually impressive TJ Watt undo all of it by sacking Russell Wilson on a blown play by D.J Fluker and Germain Ifedi. Big Ben still struggled to move the ball, and a Jadeveon Clowney batted away pass ended yet another drive for the Steelers.
Wilson got the ball back, but penalties either side of Carson 21-yard run continued to haunt the Seattle attack, Jaron Brown and Ifedi racking multiple ones up for the day. Seattle only targeted Tyler Lockett twice in the one-point win over the Bengals in week one, and it was clear by this point Lockett was the go-to plan, racking up back-to-back completions to move the Seahawks to the middle of the field. Stephon Tuitt had other ideas, and two sacks in successive plays reignited the O-Line issues of previous seasons. A James Connor screen helped move Steelers down the field, followed by a Benny Snell Jr run to half way put Big Ben in good position to allow Pittsburgh to strike first, but Ben had two wild throws and the drive stalled.
Carson continued to drive in to the Steelers next level, with another 20-yard run, and then Wilson hit Will Dissly for 43 yards down the numbers, only for Ifedi yet again to commit a penalty, offset by Steelers penalty too. On the following play, Carson tried to unleash another run, only to find TJ Watt stripping the ball and giving the Steelers the chance to return it to the house, only to be wiped out by an illegal block on the return. This was a momentary hold up as the Steelers targeted Mychal Kendricks in coverage for a defensive pass interference penalty and Connor ran it in from the one. Errors were now costing Seahawks points and changes were needed to overcome this; however, with Brian Schottenheimer on the play-calls, fans weren’t in confident mood.
Russell sprang second year receiver Malik Turner free and began the start of the reply drive. First round pick Rashaad Penny ran hard to keep the drive going but ultimately it looked like Seahawks would have to settle for a field goal. Myers kicked it over but a personal foul on the long snapper, Tyler Ott, gave Seahawks renewed life and Russell Wilson went straight for Tight End Will Dissly, covered by the much smaller linebacker, rookie Devin Bush. Dissly caught the ball in the end zone and tied it up for Seattle.
It was at 7-7 when Ben Roethlisberger, who was already getting more and more erratic with his throws, started holding his elbow after every play and made sure everyone knew there was an issue. Bradley McDougald was flagged for a hold to keep the drive alive and Steelers ran down the field only to have it all undone by an offensive pass interference penalty and failing to convert third and long. Tomlin settled for a field goal, and little did we know that would be the last sighting of Roethlisberger this season, as he headed to the locker room before the half. Seattle’s two-minute drill was bland yet again, and the chance for Myers to break the 53 yard FG record at Heinz Stadium was presented to him at the 58. Myers missed just to the left and Seahawks trailed 10-7 at the half.
Seahawks punted away the opening possession and that allowed Mason Rudolph to open up the second half and with Josh Dobbs being traded to the Jaguars in week Two, this was Mason’s chance to shine. To shine though, he would need the help of the Steelers skill positions, and after the Patriots game, Moncrief was already on very thin ice. Rudolph targeted Donte Moncrief for the first down, only to have Moncrief miss the catch and toss it up for Bradley McDougald to snag the interception, and with that Moncrief was benched.
Wilson took advantage of the immediate field position, and with three throws intersected the Steelers poor zone coverage, hitting DK Metcalf and Nick Vannett for first downs before going back to Dissly for his second score of the game and bringing up Wilson’s 200th passing touchdown in the NFL.
With Moncrief gone, JuJu Smith-Schuster was the prime target, and for the second week running, Seahawks were undone by a flea-flicker as Rudolph hit JuJu in full stride, but Mychal Kendricks bought a stop to the drive with a huge hit on the running back and Steelers wheeled out Chris Boswell to close the gap to 13-14. With Carson putting the ball on the ground early on, Penny was well involved within the running back rotation, with some Seahawks fans in dismay, due to concerns over ability and he theory peddled by analytics that first round picks shouldn’t be used on running backs. But to Penny, this didn’t matter, he made an inside run but at the last minute cut on the outside linebacker to open up a huge lane, and to everyone’s surprise was being lead all the way to end zone by the blocking of Russell Wilson. This was a momentum changing drive and for the first time, the Heinz Field crowd fell silent, and for the Seahawks it signalled a change in game plan.
Rudolph continued to impress and unrelentingly carried on going to JuJu, and lead the Steelers to drive the whole length of the field before going to his safety blanket at Tight End, Vance McDonald his first TD of the season. Tomlin rolled the dice and went for two to tie it up, only for Lano Hill to pick off Mason Rudolph in the end zone. Steelers now only trailed by two in the fourth quarter but danger man Russell Wilson was getting the ball back and Steelers desperately needed a stop. Russell Wilson targeted Tyler Locket with a third down bomb but Lockett was tangled up trying to grab it. Replays showed a helmet-to-helmet on Wilson and it was almost inexcusable that the refs missed it. Whilst the replays rolled, Pete Carroll decided to challenge the defensive pass interference on Lockett and to almost everyone’s shock, New York overruled the on field call and it went in favour to the Seahawks. Was this a make-up call? More than likely, did Seahawks care? Definitely not. The ball was placed at the Steelers 35 yard line, Wilson hit D.K in stride, and the rookie wide receiver scored his first touchdown in the NFL.
At 28-19, Steelers went three and out, leaving the Seahawks to theoretically run down the clock, but in true Seahawks style, Wilson and Carson fumbled the exchange and Bush ran it back only to drop it out of bounds at the one. Mason Rudolph hit Vance McDonald again and the PAT gave Steelers hope, bringing the score back to just two at 28-26. With Seahawks getting the ball back with 5:38 left, you’d of got good money Seahawks trying to run it out, but Schottenheimer placed his trust in Wilson and a combo of short passes and QB runs wound the clock down, although the turf did its best to snag Wilson during one slide. With a long one yard to go on fourth down, Carroll could have been forgiven for bringing pro-bowl kicker Jason Myers on, but they didn’t and Seahawks gained the yard they needed to take the game with kneel downs.
Being 2-0 with a point differential of plus-three is a strange situation, but ultimately this is the Seahawks best start since the Super Bowl season in 2013. What started up as a rough looking day littered with O-Line issues, actually became a relatively easy game, made close by Carson’s fumbles. Do the Seahawks need to improve? Definitely, but with a Brees-less Saints coming to CenturyLink this Sunday, the Seahawks have a real chance of starting 3-0. Wilson finished 29 of 35, 300 yards and 3 TDs and is in some terrific form right now.
Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, and Dak Prescott will all get early MVP nods and rightly so, but Wilson is the veteran of this pack, he’s been there, done that for eight seasons now, if he carries on in this form, heads will soon turn.
As a final note, this was easily one of Schottenheimer’s best-planned games after the switch; let’s hope for many more like it. Go Hawks!