Imagine being in the middle of a car accident. Something has knocked your car astray. Things are spinning. You catch glimpses of cars hurdling towards you. There are passengers in your car screaming, anticipating certain doom. Then there is you, calm and focused with your hand on the wheel. Fixating on the potential for disaster is of no value, so you discard it completely. You know that overcompensating for one obstacle in your way will simply send you crashing into another one. Wisely, you take in all the bad things you see and chart a course that gives you the best chance to see another day. Just as you are about to clear the wreckage, a yellow Dodge Ram driven by a mulleted Jeff Fisher comes barrelling toward you and knocks your rear bumper right off before careening into a ditch and bursting into flames. After a quick swerve, your regain control. The damage was superficial. A few of your passengers are screaming as if their lives were in danger. Annoyed, you drive on. Your goal remains visible on the horizon. Twenty cars are scattered in your rearview mirror now. Eleven remain. Eyes ahead.
The nonsensical St. Louis Rams
Surely, there are Rams fans who thoroughly enjoyed their win yesterday and are taking it as a sign of a team on the rise. Those fans should get in the same room with the Seahawks fans who are wringing their hands about this loss as a sign of the Seahawks being in serious trouble. The title of this room will be: “Conference for the Criminally Short-Sighted.” Poor Rams fans are sold this bill of goods every year by Jeff Fisher and Les Snead. They collect a bunch of talent, play well against a Super Bowl contending Seattle team, finish near .500, and enter the following season as the chic pick to be a darkhorse contender.
I know because I have fallen for it year after year myself. That Rams defensive line is ridiculously talented. They played without Robert Quinn yesterday. Nick Fairley left with a concussion. They still terrorized Russell Wilson and the Seahawks offensive line. There are not three other defensive line in the NFL with more talent than what the Rams play with. Yet, they entered the game yesterday 23rd in the rush defense, 19th in opponent yards per rush, 21st in opponent pass yards, and just 11th in sack rate.
They gave up 508 yards to the Bucs last week. 508 yards! To the Bucs! The question is not why the Seahawks struggle so much against the Rams, but why the Rams struggle so much against everyone else.
The question is not why the Seahawks struggle so much against the Rams, but why the Rams struggle so much against everyone else
A game like the one from yesterday should incense Rams fans, not excite them. If they are capable of that level of defensive mayhem, they have been vastly underperforming their talent level the rest of the season.
The Seahawks offensive line played a terrible game. Describing it any other way would be disingenuous. A sizable part of the blame/credit has to go to the Rams defensive line. If Seahawks fans want a silver lining, they should consider that no other team in the NFC playoffs has a line that is anywhere close to what the Rams put out there. The Vikings and Panthers have good defensive lines, but not this good.
Seattle has lost too many games to say they needed a wake-up call. You can only hit the snooze button so many times before you are declared legally dead. This will be important film to study for the offensive line that could help them tie down a few loose ends.
Blaming the running backs is absurd
It would be reactionary and simplistic to see the running back production from this game and decide the Seahawks are doomed unless Marshawn Lynch comes back. Getting Lynch back would be fantastic, and a nice shot in the arm. He would not have made a difference in the outcome yesterday.
There were maybe two or three carries all day by running backs that did not include a few Rams defenders in the backfield by the time the runner got the handoff. The line play was atrocious. You want to see how Lynch would have looked in a game like that? Find the film of his first game for the Seahawks in 2010 when they faced the Bears on the road. He finished with 44 yards and 2.6 yards per rush. He had similar numbers this year in Green Bay, but that Bears game stands out for how impossible it was for any runner to be productive.
Blaming the running backs for the lack rushing production yesterday would be foolish
Christine Michael seemed to get every yard that was available to him on Sunday. He got the unfortunate job of taking a four yard loss for smartly catching the first bad snap from Patrick Lewis. He also lost three yards when Michael Brockers tackled him immediately after the ball was handed off. He gained 13 yards on his four other carries. Nothing to brag about for sure, but this splitting of carries with Bryce Brown is keeping the team from seeing what they have in Michael.
Nothing Brown has done makes me want to see him getting equal reps with Michael. It is doubtful that granting Michael the seven carries from Brown would have made much of a difference, but we would know more today about Michael.
A report from Ian Rappoport, of NFL.com, indicated that Lynch is expected back in Seattle this week and may play in the finale. That would be welcome news. Don’t fall in the trap of thinking it cures what ailed Seattle in this Rams game.
Wilson battered and bruised
Nobody has held Wilson to a higher standard than I have this season. While others blamed the line for poor play, I asked Wilson to be better prepared, recognize when to adjust line protections and make hot reads, and make better use of quick passes. His improvement in all those areas has been astronomical. That is what makes it easy to put this game almost completely on the offensive line.
Wilson rarely had a clean pocket, and took some brutal hits when he stood and threw. There were definitely fewer quick passes, and a few times when Wilson should have thrown the ball away instead of scrambling into a sack, but he had Rams lineman in his lap all game long.
Wilson has earned the benefit of the doubt with his play over the past six weeks. This game may help him remember why getting rid of the ball quickly is important. It does not mark some sort of return to his days of indecision and constant improvisation.
The Rams finished with just 207 yards of offense and scored just 16 points against the Seahawks defense (one touchdown came off a fumble return). Criticizing the defense with those kinds of numbers may seem absurd. I can appreciate that point of view.
Ask any member of that defense whether they are proud of that performance and I hope you would hear them admit they expect more of themselves.
The Rams entered this game ranked 31st in scoring, 31st in yards, 32nd in 3rd down percentage, 32nd in pass yards, 32nd in yards per attempt, and 24th in interception rate.
St. Louis converted 42% of their 3rd down chances, which was their best performance since converting 55% of their 3rd downs the first week of the season against…the Seattle Seahawks. There were multiple moments when the Seahawks allowed big conversions to the Rams that got them out of trouble.
The Rams were cornered at their own 10 yard line in the first quarter, facing a 3rd and 5 that they converted and were able to push the ball farther upfield before punting.
Immediately after scoring a touchdown to close the gap to 16-10, the Rams were again pinned back at their own 19 yard line facing 3rd and 9 when they were allowed to complete a 10 yard pass to Bennie Cunningham for the first down. They moved the ball all the way to midfield before punting and pinning Seattle at their own 10 yard line. Game changer.
The Seahawks had to be somewhat conservative, down only one score and backed up in their own end zone with pass protection issues. That led to a quick punt. The Rams got the ball back and faced another 3rd and pretty long 5 yards to go at their own 43 yard line. Again, Cunningham was allowed to run a simple route to pick up the first down.
There will be more talk about the other 3rd down play, when Cunningham fumbled and Earl Thomas appeared to recover it, but these other 3rd down failures were just as unacceptable against an offense this inept.
People were talking too much about the lack of Seahawks pressure on the passer. That was not the issue. Keenum finished with 103 yards passing, and the Rams are the third best team in the league at avoiding sacks. The problem was situational defense, and a rare poor play from Richard Sherman that accounted for 26% of the Rams points and 27% of their passing yards.
This defense can be better. Kudos to Kelcie McCray, DeShawn Shead and Ahtyba Rubin for playing well despite the loss.
Nearing the second season
The Cardinals are unbeatable. The Panthers got their one loss out of the way. The Vikings are peaking. Seattle is vulnerable. There, now you do not need to read the internet or watch sports coverage for the next week or two.
The regular season is about getting a ticket to the playoffs. Once in, the game becomes almost completely about matchups. Strength versus weakness. Seattle has developed some considerable strengths over the course of this season. Just as Tom Brady and the Patriots losing to the Jets or Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers losing to the Ravens does not make them any less formidable of a playoff foe, Wilson and the Seahawks falling to the Rams does not change what opponents will have to face when Seattle comes to town in a few weeks.
Spending too much time wishing and hoping for a fifth seed versus a sixth seed or this opponent versus some other opponent is largely time wasted. Seattle is in the playoffs. Every single game they play will be incredibly difficult. They are capable of beating every team in the NFL. There are only two teams that know they are capable of winning it all because they have done it recently. The other teams all possess varying levels of hope and faith.
This upcoming game against the Cardinals is a nuisance. Losing or winning will have little to do with what happens should the two teams face off in the playoffs. Pete Carroll is not one to rest his players, but that may be the right thing to do.
They are about to enter a demolition derby with eleven other cars. No other vehicle has more kills painted on their dash than the Seahawks. Greatness is there when they summon it. This has been a grueling season. Strap yourself in. It only gets harder from here on out. Seattle may be the road team the rest of the way, but the playoffs are Seahawks territory.