Monday, October 4, 2010

The Morning After: Rams Beat Seahawks, 20-3

It was 2005 when the Seahawks rolled into St. Louis and started their 10-game winning streak against the team that had haunted them since moving to the NFC West. The championship team Seattle fielded that year was so good that it is easy to forget how the season started. Heading into that Rams game, the Seahawks were 2-2, having just lost a heart-breaker to the Redskins when Josh Brown's field goal bounced off the upright. Both Bobby Ingram and Darrell Jackson were hurt, so DJ Hackett and Joe Jurevicius had to step up, which they did in spectacular fashion along with Jerramy Stevens.

After watching the NFL Films special, "2005 Seahawks: Out of the Blue," which still resides on my bedroom DVR five years after it was recorded, I also watched some of the Redskins/Seahawks playoff game that season when Matt had to carry the team after Shaun Alexander was knocked out with a concussion. Both viewings were instructive. Matt looked very similar physically to the way he does now. There is not a noticeable dropoff on the velocity of his throws, or the speed of his rollouts. The big change is in his decisiveness and decision-making. He was so locked into that system that he flew through his reads and got the ball out. When he needed to hold it longer, his Great Wall offensive line provided the extra seconds. With three offensive systems in three seasons, that decisiveness is gone. Also gone is his bevy of instinctive wide receivers. Hasselbeck improvised successfully with his receivers multiple times in the Redskins playoff game. All those missed moments where Hasselbeck directed Carlson to open space this year without reward were easy pickings when Joe J, Bobby and D-Jack were roaming the secondary. If you look at Matt's history, he depends on having instinctive receivers more than physically dominant ones. He excels when his receivers read the defense the way he does. Through four games in 2010, it is crystal clear that Matt is not finding open receivers and that he has not developed chemistry with any of them. Brandon Stokley's performance yesterday proves that as much as anything. Matt instantly connected with the new slot receiver because Stokley was getting separation in the spots he should be and successfully improvised with Matt at least once. No other receiver has earned Matt's trust like that. Finding that mutual confidence must be a focus of the bye week.

It was tough to win in St Louis even back to the 2005. Victory wasn't assured until long-snapper JP Darche recovered a fumbled punt near mid-field with only a few minutes left in the game. Holmgren offered the French-Canadian a "merci beaucoup" in the locker room after the 37-31 streak-snapper. Many fans will react to yesterday's loss as humiliating proof that the 2010 Seahawks are doomed to mediocrity or worse. The talent gap between those 2005 teams was far greater than this season, and that version of the Seahawks had been together quite a while. It will continue to take time for this team to develop its identity. There very well may be a road win down the line that none of us could predict. Veterans like Lawyer Milloy, who played a fabulous game again, are bringing the intensity and leadership needed to shape this young teams road persona. The Seahawks may have lost their most winnable two road games of the season already, but something tells me this team is going to end the season strong away from home. Four of the next six games are on the road, so there will be plenty of opportunity to hone that traveling talent.

Yesterday's game told us a few things we already knew, and some things we didn't. Russell Okung will struggle more than his first pre-season game indicated. He was getting fooled on plays that had everything to do with his inexperience and nothing to do with his injured ankle. Pulling him in the second quarter was about giving the team a better chance to win. Carroll is covering for his franchise rookie by saying he pulled Okung due ankle soreness. The Seahawks and Okung were getting beat, and there was little point to losing a game and damaging your young tackle's psyche. Okung's run blocking was impressive at times, including the very first Seahawks play when he ushered the defensive end 10 yards across the field. Who knew that would be the most exciting play on offense all day?

Mike Williams is not the player he should be. People have said that before, but this is different. It is unclear if he doesn't have the confidence of Jeremy Bates, Matt Hasselbeck or if he's just not creating separation. Whatever the issue, it should be the focal point of the bye week. Matt's chemistry with Williams will make-or-break this season on offense. He is the most dominant receiver we have, and this offense will continue to struggle until teams must react to his production.

Justin Forsett continued to get the bulk of the carries, but he is not running with the same decisiveness as last season, and he is choosing the wrong gaps too often. He left at least 30 yards on the field yesterday when the line had done its job. Forsett will never be a Pro Bowl player, but he is better than this. At least his worst is still 20 times better than Julius Jones.

The offensive line struggled, but give credit to the Rams defense. They brought it physically and schematically yesterday. It may have been the best performance by an opposing defensive line the Seahawks have seen this season. My favorite columnist, Steve Kelley, decided to seize on their first bad game to "prove" Carroll has been mishandling them with multiple lineup changes. Reality is that the line is not talented enough to be perfect all season. They weren't completely dominated, but it was not their best game. They will improve. Move on.

Jeremy Bates is the one who deserves to be in the cross-hairs. He is consistently on the wrong side of the fine line between being clever and being contrived. When it is 3rd and 1 and your team is averaging 5.6 yard per carry at that point, run the fucking ball! Run it! RUUUUUNNNN IIIITTT!!! Don't throw a swing pass. Don't do a trick play to Michael Robinson to throw back across the field. Don't even run a sweep. Hand it off and get the god damn first down. Same thing goes for when you enter the red zone after moving the ball in healthy chunks on the ground for the entire drive. Don't completely change your approach just because you are in side the 20-yard line. Run the ball until they stop you. Our offense is stalling in the red zone, at least partially, because of an apparent unwillingness to run. It would be more understandable if the passing game was at full throttle, but it isn't. The itchy feeling I'm starting to get is that Bates wants to make his mark with clever pass plays, and that calling a blast off tackle won't earn him any style points. Prove me wrong, Mr. Bates. Show me you care more about winning than looking innovative.

Pete Carroll is right next to Bates after making some poor game management decisions for the second straight week. His challenge of the five-yard loss was an alarmingly bad choice. The fake field goal was atrocious. The pattern we are starting to see develop here is that Carroll has an inability to look past the moment he is in. He does not seem to think ahead. He sees a wrong, and he wants it righted. He has a trick play, and he wants to run it. He see a new player, and he wants to have him. Is it the right time for those things to happen? Carroll does not appear to ask himself that question. His relentless optimism can be inspiring, but it also may be blinding him to the reality that things do not always turn out for the best. The good thing you envision does not always happen. Anticipating, and planning for, the worst is a requirement of any head coach. You must see the good and the bad in order to make a properly balanced decision.

A coach that deserves some praise is Gus Bradley. Carroll gets some of the defensive credit as well, but they called a good game. There were few of those 3-man fronts that killed us in Denver, and much of the damage done was due to an offense that could not sustain a drive for most of the game. The defense came out strong, making a statement with big hits and blitzes. If the offense could have taken advantage, this might have been a banner day. They stopped the run again, and got pressure on Bradford. The vulnerability to screen passes continues to be a story to follow. After being gashed repeatedly, they made an adjustment that allowed Roy Lewis to be in position to help poor triple-teamed Will Herring. Time will tell if that's an adjustment that can be sustained, or if Seahawks fans should brace for more of the same. Lewis was a star again. He was a solid blitzer, a good tackler and decent in coverage. Kelly Jennings continues to be a target, and I'm wondering if we might see a change there coming out of the bye week. Marcus Trufant was not himself with his injured ankle, but that should be better in two weeks. One would hope this game would prove that pass pressure is not dependent on Qwest Field, but instead on game plan. Chris Clemons looked plenty fast enough to get sacks on the road.

This is not the Ravens or Jets defense that can excel regardless of how the offense contributes. However, any offense whatsoever would go a long way toward making this defense special. The ingredients are there.

Life gets more difficult after the bye. Seattle must develop some continuity on offense. It is not hopeless, but remember the 2009 team was the worst offensive Seahawks team since 1992. Turning that around takes some time.

2 comments :

Hawkgirl said...

HB,

I've always appreciated how thoughtful and insightful you are about the Hawks. How you're not this homer fan nor are you a critic that cuts the team off at the knees. Since I'm feeling a bit bipolar about the team at the moment, I seriously needed this reality check.

Going to enjoy the bye and then get ready for Chicago and seeing how the team comes together.

hawkblogger said...

Thanks, HG. I wait until "the morning after" because I can't do a fair analysis the day of. I was pissed.

You don't have to look farther than the UW game on Saturday to see the benefits of Seahawks losses. It's going to be a bumpy ride, but I'm feeling more and more confident that 2009 was rock bottom.

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