MMQB: Texans 34, Seahawks 7

MMQB: Texans 34, Seahawks 7

T.J. Houshmandzadeh and the Seahawks were up-ended by the Houston Texans on Sunday, dropping their record to 5-8 and assuring themselves of a second consecutive non-winning season.

Houston Texans 34, Seattle Seahawks 7
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Reliant Stadium
Houston, Texas

Play of the Day: First play from scrimmage, Texans quarterback Matt Schaub used a quick count to catch the Seahawks napping, and hit Pro Bowl wide receiver Andre Johnson, who had beaten his one-on-one matchup with Marcus Trufant, 34 yards down the right sidelines. Johnson covered the remaining 30 yards on his own, helping the Texans jump out to a 7-0 lead they'd never look back from.

Handouts to the Standouts

Always slim pickins after a 34-7 blowout loss, but Justin Forsett had Seattle's two longest plays of the day. His first big play came on a 41-yard kick return in the first quarter, and he'd add a 42-yard reception on a screen pass in the fourth quarter. Overall, Forsett had 162 all-purpose yards on 17 touches on Sunday.

Third-round wide receiver Deon Butler saw his most extensive action on Sunday, catching three passes for 34 yards.

Seahawks defensive tackle Craig Terrill came up with his fifth career blocked field goal in the 2nd quarter.

Things That Made Me Go "Blech!"

The play of the entire defense left much to be desired, as the Texans racked up 450 yards of total offense, the second-most the Seahawks defense has allowed this season. 364 of those yards came in a first half where the Texans built-up a 24-7 lead, which could've been even larger if it weren't for the red zone miscues and missed/blocked field goals.

Injuries hit the Seahawks hard on Sunday, with Nate Burleson (ankle), T.J. Houshmandzadeh (shoulder/head), and Matt Hasselbeck (shoulder)all getting dinged up. The scariest injury involved fourth overall pick Aaron Curry, who took a David Hawthorne helmet into his lower back while Houston was running out the clock and had to be carted off the field. (Per Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times, Curry suffered a hip pointer and x-rays were negative.)

Offense

Here's how Seahawks responded to the Texans opening the game with a 64-yard touchdown strike:

  1. Matt Hasselbeck hit in his throwing motion by Texans rookie linebacker Brian Cushing, causing an incomplete pass to T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
  2. False start by Ray Willis, his first of three on the day.
  3. Hasselbeck bobbling snap from Chris Spencer, the first of three on the day.
  4. Justin Forsett for seven yards on a draw play on 3rd-and-17.
  5. Jon Ryan 54-yard punt, that was returned for 22 yards.

Seattle's second possession didn't fare much better, as a concerted effort was made on second and third downs to put the ball in Deion Branch's hands. Not surprisingly, they'd punt on fourth down.

Already trailing 17-0 on their third possession, offensive coordinator Greg Knapp called for an end-around that gained two yards, got five yards from Forsett on 2nd down, before removing Hasselbeck for Seneca Wallace, and running a read-option play, which lost five yards as Wallace continues to just run out of bounds instead of throwing the ball away. Jon Ryan's punt would go just 18 yards after being partially blocked by former Seahawks linebacker Kevin Bentley, cementing this game's status as a "clunker" before the first quarter was in the books.

Even though Butler and tight end John Carlson had more pronounced roles on Sunday, Seahawks offensive coordinator Greg Knapp continues to perplex the MMQB with his play-calling and use of personnel.

Branch continues to be used in "Zebra" personnel (1 RB-3WR) over Butler, who needed Burleson's ankle injury to get on the field in something other than "Eagle" (1 RB-4 WR) or "U" (2 RB -1 WR) personnel, which is a grouping the ‘Hawks primarily run out of. Carlson was removed from the field, or asked to block, on third downs early in the game. Carlson gave up one of Mario Williams' sacks on Hasselbeck. Carlson would catch three passes for 24 yards and a touchdown.

The Seahawks were a pathetic 1-of-14 (7%) on third downs on Sunday. The one success: Carlson's four-yard touchdown.

If you're going to force-feed a receiver, Steve Raible is a better option right now than Branch, and this is coming from someone who genuinely likes Branch. Tim Ruskell is gone, and soon Branch will be, too. So there's no need to continue to try to extract blood from that stone(hands).

Seattle had outstanding field position on that third possession, needed to sustain a drive to at least give the overwhelmed defense a breather, but instead, Knapp got cute and the ‘Hawks were forced to punt.

It would be would thing if the above paragraph were the first red flag, but it's not. These are issues that have continually held this offense back this season, just as they held Oakland's offense back in 2008 before Tom Cable took over play-calling duties for Knapp (considering what happened to Randy Hanson, Knapp arguably got off lightly), which is why Mora should steal a page from Tod Leiweke's playbook, and show his good friend the door after the season.

After yet another miserable performance by the offensive line, Seahawks head coach Jim Mora said after the game that he's "going to consider change at all five spots" on the offensive line. On the surface, it's good to hear, but it's best to wait a few days to see if this was just a reactionary comment (see Tomlin, Mike) after another disappointing road loss.

Of the current offensive line, perhaps two are legitimate NFL starters, and both are playing out of position right now.

Despite what the Seahawks may have thought the last few years, Sean Locklear in not an NFL left tackle. He belongs on the right side, which is where he should be starting next week, perhaps even at guard. Damion McIntosh is not much better, but he's arguably been the most effective left tackle the team has had this season. No long-term answer at the position will be found before next April.

Playing a rookie center at either guard position is an ideal way to ease him into the NFL, but Max Unger should've been moved to center as soon as Spencer broke his right thumb. This column has repeatedly pointed out over the last few weeks that the inconsistencies of Spencer's off-handed shotgun snaps are throwing off the timing of the offense, which has led to many busted and negative plays. Now Spencer's hand is contributing to poor snaps when the quarterback is under center, including three on Sunday. Spencer's willingness to play hurt—which he's done throughout his career—is admirable, but if he can't be effective while playing hurt, he needs to be sat down.

Starting next Sunday against Tampa Bay, here's what the ‘Hawks offensive line should look like: McIntosh at left tackle, Rob Sims, Mansfield Wrotto, Mike Gibson or Spencer at left guard (wouldn't hurt to see what Wrotto, Gibson, or Spencer looks like at guard), Unger at center, Willis and Locklear on the right side.

Running backs Julius Jones and Forsett were to split the carries, and to make sure there were no wild cards to disrupt that plan, Louis Rankin was made inactive on Sunday. The two backs did split the carries, with Jones (10 carries, 39 yards) outpacing Forsett (9 carries, 26 yards), though much of Jones' production came on a 24-yard run late in the 2nd quarter.

Overall, Seattle's running game gained 63 yards on 24 carries, a 2.6 average that was marred by 7 rushes that lost 15 yards, including Wallace's totally unnecessary and avoidable 5-yard loss.

Houshmandzadeh was thrown to a team-high eight times, though in hindsight, he likely would've been fine with seven, as he suffered a shoulder/head injury on his final play of the game. He'd finish with four receptions for 52 yards, with a long of 31 yards, but it's the catches that Houshmandzadeh didn't come up with that are the main story.

Hasselbeck gave Houshmandzadeh an opportunity to make a play on the ball, in the end zone on a 50/50 ball, on a 4th down play from the Texans' 8-yard line. Houshmandzadeh was one-on-one with Texans sixth-round cornerback Brice McCain, a 5-9, 185-pound cornerback from Utah, a battle McCain would win.

Despite the score, and being briefly knocked out of the game at the start of the 3rd quarter, Hasselbeck played all but 5 snaps on Sunday, completing 24-of-35 passes for 247 yards, with a touchdown and an interception, which was returned for a touchdown by Texans safety Bernard Pollard.

On that interception, Hasselbeck's first read was deep to Branch, and his second read was to fullback Justin Griffith. With options like that, I assume the third read was to take out a pocket-knife and deflate the football.

With Hasselbeck out with a right shoulder, Seneca Wallace entered the game to hand the ball off a few times and commit an intentional grounding penalty that would make Garo Yepremian chuckle. Any thought Seahawks fans once had of Wallace being a full-time starting quarterback should be fully squashed by now.

Defense

The Seahawks defense had about as bad a start as a team can have, and then somehow it got worse.

Houston racked up 364 yards of total offense in the game's first 30 minutes, led by Schaub completing 24 of his 28 passes for 336 yards and a pair of touchdowns, good for a passer rating of 140.5 before the break. Texans Pro Bowl wide receiver Andre Johnson was Schaub's favorite target, catching a whopping 10 passes for 184 yards and 2 touchdowns in the first half, often with Marcus Trufant or Josh Wilson helplessly trailing in coverage. Johnson finished the day with 11 receptions for 193 yards.

During that first half, the Seahawks sent extra rushers after Schaub, but even with the Texans' patchwork offensive line, they rarely reached, or even harassed him, into poor throws. On the very rare occasion where they would force Schaub to throw it out of bounds—as Leroy Hill did on a 2nd-and-10 play from the Seahawks 40-yard line in the 2nd quarter—Gus Bradley responded with a 3-man pass rush, giving Schaub plenty of time to find Johnson for 23 yards. The two connected on the following play for 17 yards and a touchdown that turned this one into a laugher.

Seattle's defense did play better in the second half, forcing a pair of turnovers (Trufant interception, Curry forced fumble), while holding the Texans to 3 points, 86 yards and 1-of-7 on third down conversion attempts, but the damage had already been done.

The Texans placed running back Steve Slaton on injured reserve earlier in the week, and were going with a three-headed running back-by-committee approach, which the Seahawks did a good job of containing. Houston ran the ball 28 times for just 85 yards, a 3.0 yards per carry average.

Notable individual efforts were Hawthorne, who led the Seahawks with 10 tackles and recovered a fumble, Leroy Hill had five tackles and a quarterback pressure, Curry and Wilson got hits on Schaub, and Colin Cole and Deon Grant were credited with tackles for a loss, though Grant's came on a bobbled snap by Schaub down near the goal-line.

Special Teams

Seattle's special teams units had an uneven performance on Sunday.

Terrill's blocked field goal, Forsett's 41-yard return, and Butler's outstanding tackle after Texans punt return Jacoby Jones made an ill-advised attempt to field a punt inside his own 5-yard line were plusses, but punter Jon Ryan had a punt partially blocked by former Seahawks linebacker Kevin Bentley, Curry was flagged 15 yards for a personal foul while covering a punt, and overall, Seattle's punt coverage unit did a horrendous job on Jones, who averaged 11.2 yards per return.

Ryan finished the day with a net average of 41.0 yards, but just one of his punts pinned the Texans inside their own 20-yard line. Kicker Olindo Mare was only needed three times, hitting his extra point attempt and putting the ensuing kickoff through the end zone for a touchback.

Special teams captain Lance Laury led the unit with three tackles.

Summary

Any thought that the Seahawks' two-game winning streak was a sign that they were making progress can be thrown out the window after Sunday's 34-7 loss to the equally mediocre and inconsistent Houston Texans team.

The Texans are a two-man attack on offense, and the Seahawks had no answer for it.

The Texans have one pass-rushing threat, and the Seahawks had no answer for it.

For the fifth time this season, the Seahawks allowed 30+ points to an opponent, and it was the fourth time this season where they've allowed 400+ yards of offense. All of this ineptitude has come on the road, regardless of the time zone, start time, or what color pants the team was wearing.

(For the record, coach: Mr. Blackwell says to wear all-blue at home, all-white on the road, burn the lime-green jerseys and donate the dark sweatpants that accompanied them to goodwill. Also, it's time to ban all lime-green from the players' gloves, wristbands, cleats, and sideline apparel of inactive players, coaches, and staff. You're a damn football team, not a futbol team or a Enuff z'Nuff tribute band.)

With their eighth loss of the season, the Seahawks are assured of a second consecutive non-winning season. With an owner possessing "exacting standards" for his franchise, perhaps the Seahawks should re-think their "we're not going to join them, they're going to join us" approach towards finding its new leader, and instead find one who demands that everyone, players and coaches, show up when its time to play on Sundays.


In addition to writing for NorthwestFootball.net, Brian McIntyre blogs daily at Mac's Football Blog. You can follow Brian on Twitter, and if you'd like to e-mail him, you can always do so by clicking here.

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