So this is what a game against Jeff Fisher looks like without any trick plays or defensive scores. It felt like wading through raw sewage. They may say that NFL football has returned to Los Angeles, but I have yet to see it through two weeks. Seattle got stuck in the muck, setting off panic throughout the Northwest. The story goes that the offensive line is a disaster and the Seahawks are doomed. Fan and media reaction to this game is almost as abhorrent as the game itself. Try to separate the anger about the loss from the reality of why it happened. You will find placing this slow start at the feet of the offensive line is an oversimplification and abandoning ship on this team is irrational.

Breaking down the offensive line play

The Rams defensive line absolutely controlled the Seahawks offensive line in the run game much of the day. It played a large role in the loss, and should not be swept under the rug. That said, there are more insightful truths that reveal themselves as you put more context around what happened.

This was not new

Seattle rushed for a paltry 67 yards on 24 carries. The first reaction from many fans and media is that this line is terrible and the sky is falling. Have those people watched this series the last four seasons? Guess the last time the Seahawks offense rushed for 67 yards or less. If you said last season against the Rams (60 yards on 22 carries), you would be correct. That was by far the worst rushing performance of the season for the Seahawks, a full 40 yards less than their next worst game. Yeah, but the line sucked last season! Okay, let’s go back to the famed 2013 season. Seattle rushed for their lowest total in the past four years (44 yards on 15 carries) with Marshawn Lynch in the backfield against the Rams. That was even before Aaron Donald was in tow.

It was a terrible rushing performance. To treat it as if it was some new low is baseless grandstanding.

Not every running back is struggling

The Seahawks rushed for an unimpressive, but acceptable 110 yards in week one against an inspired Dolphins defense. More noteworthy is that the person running the ball has mattered more than most are admitting.

Christine Michael is averaging 5.0 yards per carry through two games. Thomas Rawls is averaging 1.3 yards per carry during the same time against the same defenses and behind the same line.

Rawls went down with an injury in this game and had been entirely ineffective beforehand. He lost yardage on most of his carries. Michael lost yardage on only two of his ten carries, gaining three yards or more on his other eight, and ten yards or more on four. He averaged 6.0 yards a carry in this game. That is a terrific number. He averaged a completely acceptable 4.4 yards per carry last week. It at least raises the question whether the runner is part of the problem and solution.

The pass protection was an improvement

You can scream all you want at the screen when reading that, but the numbers back it up. This was the fewest sacks allowed to a Rams defense (2) since the 2012 season. Yes, Los Angeles had 9 quarterback hits. This same Rams defense had 13 QB hits the last time these played, and that was in Seattle. They had 9 QB hits and 6 sacks in the first game last season. They had 7 QB hits and 3 sacks in both 2014 games. Oh, and that 2013 Seahawks offense gave up 7 sacks in one game against the Rams and 4 sacks in the other.

Show me where this was new low for the Seahawks in pass protection against this Rams line. Heck, one of the two sacks came right before the half when Wilson should have absolutely thrown the ball away seconds earlier to give the Seahawks a chance at a long field goal. Take a look at the protection on the pass to Tyler Lockett on the last drive. It was impeccable. Throw in that this Rams defense was as motivated as they will ever be after an embarrassing season opener, and the pass protection was almost encouraging.

No celebration over here

Separate out those facts demonstrating why this is not a four-alarm fire on the line, and you still find reason for concern. Bradley Sowell is looking like a guy who may not be a viable option at left tackle. He only surrendered one sack, but he was beaten a few times and appeared to false start a half-dozen times even if the incompetent refereeing crew only flagged him for one or two. Robert Quinn is certainly one of the tougher matchups he will have, so this is not a reason to lose all hope. It does make me wonder if John Schneider will put in a call to Cleveland and at least find out what the asking price would be for Joe Thomas.

J’Marcus Webb was seen chasing defenders in the backfield on a number of occasions. He is just not very good. This team cannot get Germain Ifedi back fast enough. I thought Garry Gilliam and Justin Britt did reasonably well again. Mark Glowinski has had some growing pains, but nothing he cannot overcome. This group needs to clear the path for over 150 yards rushing against the 49ers this week. They have to get back to Seahawks football, and that starts on the ground.

Darrell Bevell is struggling

The Dolphins gummed up the works last week. Darrell Bevell failed to adjust and the team struggled to score. He made some odd decisions this week that felt like he was reaching. There were back-to-back runs on the first two plays, even after Rawls lost two yards on the first one. There was back-to-back-to-back-to-back run calls on the second drive in the 3rd quarter. Michael had gained 10 yards and 16 yards on the first two carries, and then was replaced by Alex Collins who Bevell called on to run twice more. Collins gained no yards, leaving the team at 3rd and 10.

We have seen the Seahawks offense come to life at the end of halfs and games, even in this slow-starting season. They do that by going almost exclusively to the pass. The Rams secondary was vulnerable, but Bevell chose not to go that route and stuck with the standard mix of play calls. He was definitely hamstrung by the injuries to Tyler Lockett and Doug Baldwin, but it still seemed like he was a step behind on play calling all day and never found his rhythm.

At what point do we point the finger at the coaching staff for these slow starts to games and seasons? It is one thing to pay attention and make in-game adjustments, but is it totally out of the question for Bevell to ever have the offense in a position to have the opposing defense need to make adjustments? It feels like he gets caught sometimes trying to call a game that matches the Seahawks philosophy (run first) instead of a game that will result in scoring.

Injuries played more of a factor than people want to admit

Baldwin played almost that entire game injured. We will find out today after an MRI just how injured he was, but he was far from his normal self. The Rams also bracketed him with double teams all day. That would be fine on a normal day when Lockett could take advantage of it, but he was out almost the whole game with a knee injury. That allowed the Rams to double Jermaine Kearse as well.

Either Bevell did not call Jimmy Graham’s number very often or Russell Wilson did not dial him up enough, but he needed to be more of a factor in a game like this. Wilson’s own injury was apparent throughout. He looked uncomfortable moving in the pocket and was obviously much slower than normal when scrambling. He deserves nothing but praise for gutting it out and playing on a significant injury, especially against this defense. A fully healthy Wilson, Lockett or Baldwin may have been enough to get this win.

It will be worth watching what the team does with the receiver position this week. Tanner McEvoy was not active for this game and is very raw as a receiver. Do not be surprised if the team brings in a guy like Kevin Smith, Kasen Williams or even DeShon Foxx.

Defense was solid, if not spectacular

Faulting a defense for surrendering 9 points on the road to a supremely motivated team would be foolish. Sure, they could have done better, but they played well enough that any semblance of offense would have won the game. A few things stood out about their performance.

Pass rush continues to impress

They finished with only three sacks after Cassius Marsh had his critical play called back for a questionable facemask penalty. However, Frank Clark had two more sacks and now has 3.0 on the season, matching his full season total from a year ago. His emergence, and what appears to be a growing threat in Marsh can only lead to better things as the season wears on. Particularly encouraging was seeing the defense get sacks in key situations to move the Rams out of field goal range or what would have forced a long punt if Marsh’s sack had stood.

Run defense holds up

You had to know the Rams wanted to ride Todd Gurley as far as he could take them in this game. Seattle answered by allowing just 64 yards on the ground for the second straight week and just 2.6 yards per carry.

Underappreciated greatness

I saw a lot of tweets about DeShawn Shead getting “picked on” during the game and that Kenny Britt was “killing us.” Those are sure signs of a loss of perspective. The Seahawks are the #1 defense in the NFL in points and yards allowed. The Rams scored 9 points. Case Keenum threw for 239 yards. Britt had 94 yards receiving and no touchdowns. Nobody is getting picked on. Nobody is killing us. Do not fall into the trap of being so frustrated by the offense that you lose sight of how well the defense is playing.

Still could be better

There are two specific aspects of this defensive performance that could have been better. Field position played a major role in this game. Seattle started the second half and moved the ball a bit before pinning the Rams at their own 5 yard line. That should have been a time for the defense to bow up and give the offense a short field to work with. Instead, they allowed the Rams to flip the field and nearly score if not for a Clark sack.

The Seahawks pinned them again at the 13 yard line the next time. The Rams pushed out of it again and this time did score another field goal. Those two drives were chances for the defense to give their offense an advantage they clearly needed.

 

The Seahawks offense did not start a possession outside of their own 25 yard line all day

 

There are two ways for a defense to give their offense good field position. The first is to stuff a team when they are starting back near their own goal line. The other is to take the ball away. This defense has not done that through two games. Some of that is the random bounces of the football. Some of it is transitioning from being assignment sound to being smart about when to anticipate what is coming and make a play.

The sky is cloudy, not falling

Only fans of a team with incredibly high expectations would be losing their minds after their team fell to 1-1 against a tough division rival playing in their home opener in a new city after being humiliated the week before. We may hate the reality about how the Seahawks matchup to the Rams, but we cannot deny it. What happened yesterday was more infuriating than surprising. The biggest surprise was the absence of trick or fluke plays keying the Rams victory.

They beat the Seahawks three straight times and now are the only team in the NFL since 2012 to own a winning record (5-4) against Seattle (minimum of two games). This happens. It sucks. It also has not stopped the Seahawks from going to two of the last three Super Bowls and going to the playoffs each of the past four years.

That is not a reason to ignore the things that are troubling the Seahawks through two games. There are real issues that need to be dealt with. The prevailing storyline that this is just disastrous offensive line is too myopic and fails to compare to previous lines. From what I see, the Seahawks have a problem at left tackle and right guard. The hope is they could get their right guard back as early as this week or the next. That leaves a question about what they will do at left tackle. Most likely, they will do nothing. Maybe, just maybe, they will pull the trigger on a move to shore it up.

We have yet to see this offense with Michael as the featured runner. It is time for that to happen. The injury to C.J. Prosise has made things even more complicated as Collins is certainly not a good option as a third down back. I would like to see the Seahawks change the carries to give Michael closer to 20 and reduce the touches for Rawls for now. I would like to see Graham featured more in the offense to alleviate the pressure on the injured receivers.

This game against the 49ers represents the first chance for the Seahawks to play against a defensive line that does not rank among the top seven in the game. They go to New York the following week to face another terrific line. The path will not be simple or straightforward. It never is.

 

18 Responses

  1. Jeff

    I still think much of the O-Line has a lot of issues giving runningbacks a way to get through. It’s not our only problem and there really is no reason to give up on Seattle just yet. We still have a whole season ahead of us. Besides I’ll never give up on our team and will be with them till the bitter end this season regardless.

  2. LooseSasquatch

    This is my problem with Bevell. It’s the pre-planning a game plan to take advantage of predictable scenarios (like is it really a shock how the Rams will play us every time at this point?). Instead we always end up trying to bash our heads against a wall while keeping it close on defense until we get to the end of the game or we’re far enough behind to lose the conservative offense and it’s just stupid.

    In this game, we absolutely should have been running quick-hitting pass plays to spread the Rams defense out before their killer D-line can hit home and instead we’ve got Graham blocking in-line, we’ve got Russ holding the ball for 5-7 seconds and then throwing fade routes downfield and they’re teeing off on our RBs and Wilson. . .

    This game was the entirely predictable result of our coaches NEVER varying their approach and only adjusting as the game unfolds. The one failing (and I don’t know if this is PC or Bevell or both) with our team is to finish strong, but somehow in the last couple years they’ve basically forgotten to both trying to start strong either and it shows. We’re in another hole we shouldn’t be in (we should be 2-0 and a game ahead of the Cards) and it might get worse before it gets better with Wilson’s injury. . .

  3. Doug

    Thanks for the perspective Brian! I would add that penalties were a factor yesterday as well, especially the OPI’s. Those were some of the weirdest calls I have ever seen, especially the one on Kearse on what would have been a first down. I am not going to blame the result on the refs because there were certainly plays left on the field, but in a close game where yards were so hard to come by the penalties cumulatively were a dagger.

  4. Dan

    Thanks for the write-up Brian, I feel a little better after readying it. Although, I still can’t help but to feel pretty down about the offensive line. A large reason we got throttled by the Panthers in the first half of our playoff game was inept offensive line play. If we are to advance further this year, the line needs to to get better over where they were last year, even at the end of the year where they were playing relatively well. This bar seems extremely high right now. I will say that Russell being hurt probably hurt our production more than we think. Bevell couldn’t do all that he normally wants to do. Many of our big plays, and in particular running game, are predicated on at least a threat of Wilson running. It is early, hope is not lost, but tons of working and healing are required.

    • Philipp Gordley

      Its not only inept O-Line play though. Like as a coach you have to know “My line fucking sucks….” therefore you can’t play to your gameplan the same way. Why? Because the other team knows this. Change it up.

      Problem is….Bevell is dumber than a shoebox full of shit. He puts the team in the hole and then we’re digging and digging and digging. Yes, his gameplan works for like 4 games a season, the rest of them we’re behind or barely hanging on.

      Bevell is an idiot and can’t figure out when he’s got a problem. He’s his own worst enemy.

      Just my thoughts.

  5. Colin Lundstrom

    Good work, Brian. You and Jacsun over at FG always bring good, reasoned perspectives to games like this, even when they are seemingly as bad as it can get.

    Key point here: this was no blowout. A 31-0 loss to the Rams is a whole different ballgame.

  6. Nathan H

    The offensive line is consistently sub-par based on more than the past few seasons’ worth of information. That they are routinely inferior at pass-protection is not debatable. That they are often inferior at run-blocking IS debatable but would not be a one-sided debate.

    The fact that the inferior performance of the offensive line hinders the offense and costs them games is not disputable.

    The idea that the offensive line is not provided talent is a fallacy. High-round picks have routinely been invested. Competition should uncover talent that took less resources to acquire, just like every other position where it has happened on the team. Heavy investment is made in development spanning years of instruction and training…and ends up resulting in bupkis more often than not.
    I think the argument is clear that Tom Cable, his staff, and his smoke-and-mirrors reputation is holding this team back.

    Pass protection: Brian, you’ve done a very good job several times pointing out that Tom Cable coached offensive lines are among the worst pass-protectors in the league. The trade off to having a Tom Cable coached offensive line is supposed to come in the form of a superior run game.

    Run game: This team has experienced success in the run game in the past. Not consistently, though. I’m sure you would have no trouble recalling several instances of Seahawk RBs getting hit behind the line of scrimmage or press conferences where Pete has lamented that, “…we just couldn’t get it going.”
    Tom Cable has a unique zone blocking scheme that does not translate from any other team, college or professional. So it must be taught. And it apparently takes a long time to teach, is difficult to implement and very easy to get wrong on a play-by-play basis. Thus, the pool of talent available league-wide who could carry out the scheme is significantly reduced.

    If the trade off for having poor pass protection is an inconsistent, difficult, untranslatable run game – hot damn, man, count me out.

    After having cooled down and thinking about it for a good long while, I’m officially calling for the head of Tom Cable. Put my name next to it. Nathan Hoover. Fire Tom Cable.

    Replace him with whom, you ask? I’d answer that with: How do you want your run game to look? This team couldn’t establish a solid zone-run game even with the legendary Alex Gibbs heading the o-line, much less his protege, Mike Solari. Also, the strengths of the members of the o-line are physicality and size, characteristics that lend themselves to more of a power man scheme. So we should hire someone who can implement that. Jim Harbaugh is the ideal candidate but, of course, would not be available. Perhaps we could pry Tim Drevno from Harbaugh’s grasp? Mike Sanford would probably leave Indiana State….

    I’m sure the Seahawks would perform a 5 star research endeavor without my input ( 🙂 ). I guess my argument isn’t how to do it but that they should.

    • george

      Great article – thanks!
      What are the salary cap implications of bringing in Joe Thomas?

      • Nathan H

        Well, Joe Thomas is signed through 2018 with about $10 mil against the cap each year. Seahawks are currently about $7 mil. under the cap and prefer to operate with about $5 mil of wiggle room.

        Bottom line: We’d have to dispense with value somewhere and cut someone at the Kam Chancellor level (unlikely) or bust out the credit card and restructure (which is not good practice). Sorry, George, much as I’d love it I don’t see this move as being viable.

    • Doug

      Nathan, we have to look at the history of the OL under Cable. The line always takes some time to come together, and after the bye week, I expect we are going to see much better results. Add in the fact that Ifedi hasn’t yet started (and he may be our best OLman, although Britt seems to have found a good home at C). The ever-optimistic Pete Carroll has said this line is ahead of where they were last year, and Brian has documented the ways that may be true.

      All in all I am willing to chalk this one up to “the RAMS” being our “memeisis” (because the Rams have become a thing). No time to panic but let’s see how they do vs the 49ers.

      • Nathan H

        Appreciate the input, Doug. Good thoughts.

        Agreed that the line always takes some time to come together. Wouldn’t you agree that that is not acceptable?

        Also, if we’re waiting for an injured, rookie, left tackle/right tackle/right guard to justify bad offensive line play for 1/4 of the season, I’d argue that that reflects poorly on the executive staff, not the talent and underscores the need for change.

    • nick

      Actually saying the offensive line is not consistently a good run blocking unit would indeed be a one side argument, statistically speaking. one can not be in the top 5 rushing teams several years running without good run blocking. Now do we struggle against the elite DL’s in the league, why yes we do, and why they have attained the level of elite.

      It appears you’re expecting a run blocking OL that can’t be stopped, period. For the record i’d like that also, as well as some private time with Angelina Jolie.

      In regards to their pass pro, read Brian’s article about the misunderstood OL. Also know that Russell was leading the league in QB’S causing their own sacks, because he’s been less than decisive. This is why last year everyone proclaimed he’d had an awakening of sorts because they were getting him to get rid of the ball so quickly and so suddenly. However also recognize where and against whom his awakening came against. Bottom half DL teams SF, Pit, CLE etc. Then even though he had been awakened what happened against the rams in week 16? What happened against Carolina?

      Bottom line is this offense is going to struggle against elite Defensive lines. It has historically. It will continue to. Again this is why they’re called Elite. We can improve but suggesting we dump Cable because we can’t run against the elite lines, when weve been near the top in rushing since he’s been here is nonsense.

      The hawks boast, coincidently, one of the best running defenses. I wonder how many fan bases call for their O-line coaches head after we hold the to 2.something a carry?

  7. Jeff

    Sowell and Webb are simply not NFL level offensive linemen. I struggle to imagine that Gilliam is so bad that he shouldn’t be given a shot at left tackle. On many plays Sowell’s only defense against Quinn was to false start and pray the incompetent ref’s didn’t see it. I hope Sowell and Webb go the way of Drew Nowak.

  8. Shane

    Glad to see that there is a voice of reason within the ranks of sports journalism. Going on three years now of the Rams always giving the Seahawks fits and people still overreact to a poor outing for Pete Carroll’s squad. Remember at this point last year, they were 0-2 and the defense was having issues as well. This year, through two weeks, they’re the best defense in football AGAIN!!! and they’re tied up with everyone else in the division. Some people will say whatever, they only played the Rams and Dolphins, hardly powerhouse offenses. Ryan Tannehill looked like a scared little boy playing against the LOB and then put up almost 400 yards against the Patriots the other day. Food for thought, just saying.
    None of this excuses the poor performances of the offense though and Brian, I’m really glad that you at least acknowledged the short comings of Darrell Bevell. The guy always seems to be behind the power curve in terms of creativity and keeping this offense dynamic. When the going is good, he makes this offense look brilliant but when they’re going up against tough defensive fronts and the run game isn’t working, he’s all out of sorts. Where a lot of the other good offenses in the league work the short passing game over the middle, the Seahawks always seem to avoid it. Instead they opt for the outside routes and the stupid bubble screens. Yes the line has a lot of work to do but I’m still optimistic about it’s future considering that they still have they’re big draft pick(Ifedi) waiting in the wings. To a lesser extent though, I think we also need to be looking at Pete Carroll. Look, he’s one of the greatest coaches ever but it seems at times like he is living in denial about the issues that his team is having. Time and time again, he says in post game conferences that the line and the play calling are not issues and that none of us know what we’re talking about. Look coach, we may not know as much as you about the game, but when everyone except you is seeing and saying the same thing week in week out about what’s going wrong, it’s probably high time that you start considering some serious changes. If that means shopping around for veteran line man and also having a long heart to heart with your offensive coordinator, so be it.
    I’m not even close to hitting the panic button right now. It’s only week 2 and I’m seeing enough good things out of this team to keep me plenty optimistic about where we’re going this year. As long as the players and coaches get on the issues sooner rather than later and make real changes to keep things in order, we’ll be more than fine. I’m pretty sure after last season Pete Carroll learned not to let things fester until halfway through the year. Lingering issues should get fixed sooner this year so as not to add up to drama later in the season. Onward and upward. Go Hawks!!

  9. Bruce McDermott

    We have averaged 2.8 yds per carry between the tackles so far, I believe. That is far below what we averaged last year overall. And that covers the part of the line that is supposed to be going comparatively well, or at least was before Ifedi got hurt. Far too often, in the first couple of games, the line of scrimmage has been immediately pushed back into the Hawk backfield. Web, the biggest dude we have, is the biggest offender. On the outside, Sowell has simply been outclassed. Those two players were the FO’s answer to shoring up OLine questions in the offseason. Ooops. I think we can shore up RG easier than LT, but the short-term solution to LT is evidently not on our roster at this point.

    Some of us predicted exactly this result–the Oline would struggle badly early on. Our Oline is not good enough now to compete at a level that would get us to the playoffs. I’m not sure how to compare how bad the Oline is this year to how bad we were last year at this point in the season, but the most obvious way is to look at the tape and the scores. By that standard, the names have appreciably changed, but the performance has not. With Wilson hobbled (denying it while his coach confirms it) as well, I think the most we can hope for is a repeat of last season–start slow, hope we hit our stride in time to make the playoffs. But transcendent play across a season that causes wise analyses of where we stand in the pantheon of great teams is clearly out of the question, pending a true miracle or two.

    • nick

      there is no reasonable sample size to start quoting runs inside the tackles, as though it’s some indicator of the season. We’ve played 2 of the best DL’s in the game. that would be like a team starting the year playing the hawks D, and then Denver’s and quoting their results.

  10. andytyl003

    They have always started slow so I am not concerned a bit about the team. That said, we do have to address the LT situation because it seems there is no other alternative. Webb is Webb but we have Ifedi when he comes back. I know Brian likes Michael but I have seen enough of him. You can have all the spectacular runs but if you continue to have mental errors and turnovers at critical times, you will be on the bench. I don’t think Rawls is 100% yet. Don’t see the cut and explosion. I feel very comfortable w/ the OL, especially the interior. Like I’ve said before, after the 2nd or 3rd pre-season game, Britt will be a Pro Bowler when he gets more experience. I believe he’s found the “spot”. He has been very consistent for the first 2 games against top-notch DLs. Russ did fine, considered the situation, but once again he was playing hero ball when we were in the “funk”. Given up the opp to score before the half, when we were struggling, was inexcusable. That 5 yards delay penalty, from the last drive, was brutal. Top tier qbs do not make those kinds of mental error when the game is on the line. The defense did fine. DL is playing really well, really like that NASCAR package. So far the young ones are finally contributing, FC and CM. LBs played better this game, especially BW. The secondary is o.k., but given the high expectations coming out of camp, the standard is not there yet. Shead had a bad game and Kam still can’t play in space. We need to create turnovers for easy scores or better field positions. I know turnover is a random thing, but man for the last 2 years, we’re averaged in that dept. When we won the SB, we led the league.

  11. hawk.lips

    Pete said the offensive line would be a work in progress and he is delivering in spades.
    I was looking and didn’t see Graham in the line-up during red-zone plays (at least not many). I thought we were getting the ultimate red-zone weapon, why not use him there? What about the match-up nightmare that he was with the Saints? I don’t understand why when the field compresses and separation is harder his height and leaping ability should give us a target, why not use him?

    I still think we will be a top 5 offense by week 17 and a top three DVOA finisher.

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