The Elephant in the Locker Room: Putting the Hurt on the Opposing Teams


Hawks-150Expectations are high, and everyone’s paying attention… But every week it seems like there’s some key issue that’s getting glossed over. It’s the elephant in the locker room, if you will, and gosh darn if I’ll let that ride. Join us on Saturday mornings for a little closer look at our World Champions.

By Greg Wright

It started on a brisk December evening almost exactly two years ago.

A couple of days before Christmas in 2012, the Seahawks hosted San Francisco in a nationally televised game. Playoff berths were on the line for both teams. With the Seahawks already leading 14-0, the Niners were driving… and this happened:

Kam Chancellor was flagged for a personal foul on the play, and Vernon Davis left the game with a concussion. The league declined to fine Chancellor for the hit since, as you can see in slow-motion replays, Chancellor led with his shoulder. Davis just happened to be on the receiving end of devastating technique in a violent game.

Vernon Davis has all but disappeared in subsequent matchups with the Seahawks.

You may have also noticed since that day that, generally speaking, all-pro tight ends regularly disappear when playing the Hawks.

You may have also noticed since then that (Philip Rivers aside) all-world QBs look more like Joe Blow than Joe Namath against the Seahawks. At least until garbage time in the fourth quarter, when “prevent defense” allows QBs to accumulate meaningless yardage with throws underneath the coverage.

Something changed that wonderful December evening.

Yes, the Seahawks won a lot of games against very good teams during Russell Wilson’s rookie season in 2012. But a lot of those wins looked like the miracle come-from-behinds against Green Bay, New England, and Chicago. They weren’t forged from purely punishing encounters. Losing teams walked away thinking, “We should have won that game. We handled the Seahawks, and somehow they won anyway.”

That changed in 2013.

In 2013, the Legion of Boom grew up, matured into the brutal style of Kam Chancellor, and when opposing teams limped away–win or lose–they were done. Simply done. Mentally, and physically. Now teams crawl away thinking, “We just got our ass handed to us. Glad we don’t have to do that next week!” Think of that Super Bowl.

Think also, for instance, of Seattle’s early-season encounter with Houston last year. The Texans were hyped as a Super Bowl hopeful after their surprising and dominating season in 2012. They opened their season at 3-1… and then the Seahawks came to town.

Three lasting visions still resonate from that game: blood streaming down megastar J.J. Watt’s face from a nose bloodied by an encounter with, yes, Russell Wilson; Richard Sherman moving so fast he left a shoe behind on the way to the endzone with a pick six; Houston QB Matt Schaub pounding on the turf with his fist in frustration.

The Texans did not win another game all season.

Matt Schaub was effectively done for the year after having thrown pick-sixes in four consecutive games.

It was a pattern that would repeat itself throughout the 2013 season as the Hawks went 13-3. 16 times the Seahawks outmuscled their opponents en route to a Super Bowl victory–and in the first fifteen encounters, an interesting thing happened. Not only did they win the vast majority of those matchups, they left opposing teams in shambles afterward.

In 2013, 10 out 15 teams who played the Seahawks also lost the following week.

Think about that.

Not only do you have to face the Seahawks and a very probable loss, you also have to face the fact that you’re likely looking at two losses, not just one. And if you play in the NFC West, the odds are that means four potential losses each season.

Facing the Seahawks is just brutal.

Let’s see what that means for the 49ers this week.

In last week’s loss to the Hawks, the Niners lost Frank Gore on this play:

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Early in the third quarter, Kaepernick completed a pass to fullback Miller. As Bruce Irvin chases Miller down from behind, Frank Gore comes in to lay a blindside block on Bobby Wagner.

Gore left the game after a concussion that left him flopping helplessly on the field while Wagner walked away looking like he was thinking, “What just bounced off of me? A gnat?”

Not long after, Wagner encountered Gore’s backup, Carlos Hyde:

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After this seemingly routine tackle, Hyde left the game with a leg injury.

Now, how do you suppose the 49ers are going to do this week, with the stuffing having been knocked out of them along with their playoff hopes, and their workhorses out to pasture for rest and rehab?

The trend has continued this season, to the point of predictability. After the first  13 matchups, 9 of the Seahawks opponents have gone on to lose the following week. It’s now happened 8 weeks in row.

Brutal.

What’s the implication?

If the Seahawks can pull out a win at Arizona this week, it probably means the Cardinals will not only lose their shot at the NFC West title; it probably also means they’ll end the season with two losses to finish at 11-5.

Meaningless?

Perhaps.

But just talk to Vernon Davis or Colin Kaepernick or Jim Harbaugh about the ongoing psychological toll of facing the Seahawks.

And reflect that Cliff Avril and K.J. Wright are now locked up long-term with Kam and Richard and Earl and Michael–and Bobby Wagner waiting in the wings.

The Seahawks do not just beat other teams. They effectively end careers, and change the destinies of entire franchises.

I like the Cardinals and Bruce Arians. I really do.

But I also feel sorry for them.

Merry Christmas, Seahawks fans!


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