The Morning After: Bad Decisions Cost Seahawks Game, Lose to Saints 25-20
Offense
Defense
Special Teams
2.1Game Rating
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Bad decisions come in all shapes and sizes. They can well-intentioned mistakes or egregious failures to do the job you are paid to do. The impact of those decisions is equally varied, and there is not a direct relationship between the impact and flagrance of error. A very small mistake at the very worst time can be far more impactful than a very big mistake in a neutral moment. Bad decisions cost the Seahawks a winnable football game against the Saints. Bad decisions from Russell Wilson. Bad decisions from Darrell Bevell. Bad decisions from the refs. It is a bitter pill to swallow knowing just how hard the rest of this schedule will be for Seattle. The Seahawks offense is not good enough right now to overcome mistakes, and the Seahawks defense was not good enough to overcome a Hall of Fame quarterback and officiating errors. These are the times when many cower and point fingers. Blame only deepens the spiral. Somewhere within the mistakes are opportunities for revival. The ability of Seahawks coaches and players to find those redeemable cracks and address them will determine how this story ends.

 

Offense sputters

It was not hard to see this game coming. I wrote earlier in the week that I thought the Seahawks would need to score close to 30 points to win this game. The Saints defense has been a disaster and the Seahawks defense could not reasonably be counted on to hold down one of the game’s most prolific offenses on the road after a grueling 90 play performance days earlier. An offense that had been struggling, needed to find its footing. Instead, glimpses of competence were undone by some uncharacteristic judgment errors from their star quarterback and a failure of the coaching staff to feature their top talent

The team’s first two drives were hampered by negative plays. A fifteen yard clipping penalty by George Fant turned a 2nd and 9 at the 40-yard line into a 2nd and 24 the 25-yard line. Their second drive started with a sack on first down. That would be the only sack given up on the day, but made it 2nd and 21. Wilson completed a pass to Tyler Lockett—who finally started looking like himself again—to setup a feasible 3rd and 11, only to have Fant commit a false start that created a 3rd and 16. Wilson found Jimmy Graham for 13 yards, and the team had to punt again.

Mistakes by a rookie making his first start in a hostile environment are to be expected. Seattle managed to right the ship on the next drive with a big 23-yard pass play to Paul Richardson, and then an even bigger completion to C.J. Prosise on a trick play pass from Tanner McEvoy. The run from Christine Michael would become the only Seahawks offensive touchdown on the day. It might have been enough if not for what happened on the next series.

New Orleans had been held to their second field goal to make the score 14-6 when Seattle took over. Wilson’s first pass was thrown dangerously into traffic, and far too close to Saints linebacker Nate Stupar, who made a leaping interception. No pass rusher was anywhere near him when he decided to throw the pass. Maybe Wilson is accustomed to having more arm strength on his throws, and was negatively effected by his pectoral injury. That is being generous. I was sitting behind Wilson and he should have known better than to take that chance. The Saints were on the ropes at that point. The stadium was dead. Everything changed on that play.

He recovered and led the team on a late drive to get within field goal range, only to see Jon Ryan botch the hold. You had to like Stephen Hauschka’s chances of making a 53-yarder in a dome if Ryan had held onto the snap. That mistake ultimately cost the team a chance to win the game with a field goal at the end.

The half ended with the Seahawks managing just 3 yards rushing on three carries. The coaching staff came out determined to get their rushing attempts after halftime, rushing six straight times and driving down to the Saints 34-yard line. The drive stalled there as they settled for the field goal, but it was further proof that a big part of running the ball is commitment. Seattle would run the ball only four more times the rest of the game.

 

You read that right. After averaging 5.7 yards on 7 carries by their running backs to start the second half, Darrell Bevell called just four running plays the rest of the game.

 

The team finished the day with a healthy 4.4 yards per carry average, but only 17 carries, and only 14 by running backs. It makes no sense. It would be one thing if the team was zipping the ball all over the field, but that is not happening. The Saints and Cardinals both showed a tremendous commitment to the run. Both teams game plan was clearly to run on first down in almost all situations and try to get the team to a 3rd and 6 or less before counting on their savvy quarterbacks to convert. It’s a really good formula, and one the Seahawks should be pretty darn familiar with.

Another head-scratcher was having Wilson throw the ball 34 times, but target Graham only five times and Doug Baldwin only six times. Jermaine Kearse led the team in targets. Some of that is on Bevell, but some of it is absolutely on Wilson. His decision to throw to Prosise in the middle of the field with 16 seconds left and no timeouts was cringe-worthy. It was even worse when you consider the other options he had available to him. Take a look at these two shots of the play from where I was sitting.

play1

play2

The first shot is before Wilson started his windup. If he had correctly read the defense, he would have seen that Tyler Locket was going to be wide open in the corner of the end zone. Even if he missed that, he had Graham breaking wide open toward the sideline on one side, and Baldwin breaking wide open toward the other sideline. Yet, spoiled for choice, he decides to throw it in the middle of the field Prosise and was fortunate to get another play in time to stop the clock.

What should have been three shots at the end zone from the 18-yard line, became one shot at the end zone from the 10-yard line. The mistake was further exacerbated by not only throwing to Kearse on the final play, but throwing it in a spot that made it impossible for his receiver to come down in bounds.

That is not what we have come to expect from a player who has always found a way to rise to the moment. Perhaps the injuries have something to do with it. Maybe the plays are being called in a way that is leading him to those decisions. More likely, a very good player made some very bad plays at crucial junctures in a game his defense and offensive line desperately needed his help to win.

 

Not all bad

Now before you go off killing Wilson for his miscues, be sure to recognize that he did drive the team 58 yards with no timeouts on that drive and 72 yards on the previous drive to put them in position to win it. He passed for nearly as many yards as Brees (253 vs 265) and almost as many yards per throw (7.4 vs 7.6). The team only punted once in the second half, and wound up with significantly more yards per play than the Saints (6.6 vs 5.2).

People will rightfully point out how bad the Saints defense has been, and would be right to do so, but consider how this game compares to both team’s performances from a week prior.

The Chiefs scored 20 points on offense and had a total of 326 yards at home against the Saints. Seattle scored 13 points on offense and totaled 359 yards on the road. That same Seahawks offense had just 130 yards of offense in four quarters against the Cardinals. You can roll your eyes and dismiss those facts all you want, but they remain facts.

Seattle’s offense should have been better, and has to be much better. That does not mean there were not some positive developments.

Prosise finished with 80 yards receiving to lead the team, as well as 23 yards on 4 carries. He showed the burst necessary to get to the edge, and could get some additional reps in the near future.

Fant recovered from an early set of costly mistakes to hold up reasonably well in his first start. McEvoy continues to be a playmaker however the team chooses to employ him. Both Wilson and Lockett looked like there was more spring in their step.

 

Defending Brees made harder by bad calls

I don’t get fined by the league for criticizing officials, so I can say without hesitation that the refs did a terrible job in that game. One thing I’ve always appreciated about the NBA is that officials huddle at halftime and review the job they did in the first half. Among the things they check on is foul disparity. It almost always results in calls evening out over time. That doesn’t mean they intentionally start calling fouls on the other team, but there is a healthy amount of self-scouting that goes on.

The Seahawks had 7 penalties for 50 yards at halftime. The Saints had none. Seattle had four penalties for 26 yards in the second half. New Orleans had two penalties for 10 yards. The second half disparity was misleadingly narrow given the magnitude of the calls that went against Seattle.

It was 3rd and 5 at the New Orleans 46 yard line with the Seahawks leading 17-13 after starting the second half with a physical field goal drive. DeShawn Shead made a terrific play to break up a slant pass. A full second after the ball hit the ground, the back judge decided to pull his flag and call holding. Keep in mind that holding he was apparently calling happened before the pass was thrown, yet he did not draw his flag until after the play was over. Curious. The Saints went on to get a field goal that figured prominently in the outcome.

The next drive saw the Saints score a touchdown on a 3rd and goal where Jeremy Lane was clearly picked on the play, later confirmed by former head of officiating Mike Pereira. Maybe the Saints would have scored a touchdown from the 12-yard line anyway. I would have liked to see them try.

On the Saints final drive, the Seahawks defense bowed up and stopped them on 3rd and 6, only to see a flag come in again for defensive holding. Another gift first down.

Seattle answered back by holding the Saints to a 3rd and 5 at the 44-yard line, still outside of field goal range. Again, Lane was picked on the play in plain sight. No call. First down.

The refs saved their worst for last, though, as running back Tim Hightower was dragged out of bounds with close to 2:46 seconds remaining on the clock, but the refs ruled that his forward progress was stopped inbounds and kept the clock rolling. Pete Carroll, incredulous, could not believe the clock was still moving and was forced to use his final timeout, while also losing about 10 seconds in the process.

Refs are human. They make mistakes. Making this many mistakes in favor of one team is atrocious, and compromises the integrity of the outcome. That said, I am never one to blame the officials for a loss. The Seahawks defense hurt themselves as well.

Giving up over 100 yard to Hightower is enough to trigger the gag reflex for anyone in that locker room. New Orleans was 9-15 on 3rd downs. That led to another long day at the office with time of possession strongly favoring the Saints. Seattle has to shore up their 3rd and 3-5 yard defense.

 

New Orleans has four third downs of 6 yards or more. They converted zero of them.

 

The Seahawks were giving up 2-4 yards on first down runs way too often. Give Brees two plays to gain six yards, and you are in trouble. Seattle was once again without Kam Chancellor, and may have to be without him and Michael Bennett for a few more weeks. Tony McDaniel was injured late in the game as well. An injury there would further test the depth of the defensive line.

 

Players and coaches must come together

Graham did not speak to reporters after the game. Baldwin was dejected and frustrated. There is no time like the present to have an honest and open dialogue behind closed doors about the state of the offense. Wilson and Lockett appear to be getting healthier. Prosise gives them a new wrinkle to play with. Bradley Sowell may be back soon.

They have the right weapons. They have done much more with much less. It comes back to the coaches. Their game plans have been ineffective. Players are not being put in position to impact the game. Even if some of that is on Wilson for missing reads, that still comes back to the coaches being willing to call him on it, and help him get better.

The deep passing game has all but disappeared in recent weeks. It needs to return. We started to see the bootleg passes come back this week as Wilson’s mobility improved. The obvious missing element here is a commitment to the running game. That won’t be easy the next three weeks with the likes of Buffalo, New England, and Philadelphia on the schedule.

The time is now to reassess and remake their approach. There are championship players on this offense. Featuring them and retaining a physical identity through the run game cannot wait any longer.

11 Responses

  1. Scott

    I think they went conservative on the fourth quarter opportunity on the two yard line. I understand the thinking of getting the three points but greater risks have greater rewards. I would have thought they could have tried to score a touchdown and take the momentum swing to win the game. Even if they failed you have New Orleans on the two yard line and a hungry defense to take the ball or the ensuing field position advantage. Just my thoughts but Pete seems to error on the side of caution more than he use to! Other tidbits: is Kam really that hurt? Do they have any confidence in giving Boytkin a few series?

  2. LooseSasquatch

    This has been the thing holding us back from being the clear best team in the league for YEARS: the offensive coaches have no ability to adjust in game compared to other NFL coaches.

    Bevell is just really inconsistent with his playcalling. He has bonehead calls at the worst time. He completely abandons the run against suspect run defense teams (like 2 years ago when Marshawn Lynch ran for something like 66 yards on 7 carries and got zero carries in the 2nd half and we lost at home to Dallas).

    He’s also schematically terrible. We are the only team that seems to not be able to scheme a WR open using play design, like pick/rub routes or anything like that. We have 3 WRs (Baldwin, Lockett, Richardson) who have amazing agility and route running and are nightmare matchups in space and yet we rarely run any combos to get them open, we just rely on Wilson to be able to hold on long enough for someone to break free.

    Don’t even get me started on the lack of ability/willingness to do whatever it takes to get Graham integrated into the offense, including changing the offense to do what works best to get him open. He’s a matchup nightmare with his size, speed, and reach/catching radius, and yet most of the time we have him chip blocking and then running a 5 yard sit down route over the middle. Um, Vannett can do that.

    We are literally wasting years of prime with our awesome defense and there’s no guarantee of continued success with restocking it to always be this good. We’ve won in spite of our offense way more often than we’ve won because of it. Bevell and Cable both need to be gone and we need a better play caller with the OC headset on. This season is making it painfully clear now that Wilson’s legs can’t bail them out of every bad decision they make. . .

    • andy

      I feel you. In the past when we had all the horses, the system worked great. So far this year, with limited personnel, we suck. So what does it say about our coaching staff? I get it. You win with talents but there are cases when teams have lots of talent and still can’t win. Why? We can make up w/ all the excuses about injured players, officials made bad calls etc.. In the end, if you have a good core of talents and well-coached team, you are more likely to do well. For example, NE, missing TB for 4 games w Gronk out for 2 games (he is still not 100 percent when he came back), they started JG (2nd year) for 1 1/2 games and JB (rookie) for 2 1/2 games w/ a 3-1 record. During that time, they averaged 22.75 points per game w/ one shutout. So far we average a putrid 18.7, almost 6 points from previous years. However, it is still early but the key is RW’s health. If he does not get better or get additional injuries then we can kiss this season goodbye.

    • hawkdawg

      Actually, Bevell calls, or Wilson checks to, rub plays quite a bit. The winning Miami touchdown was only one such play, and there have been several more. You could argue there should be more still, because they are often successful, but you can’t say the pass offense is just “everybody run around and wait for Wilson to find them” anymore.

      I am more concerned about Wilson’s reads. Those were erratic at best. Brian’s snapshots above are pretty chilling. Basically, they look like Wilson should have gone to anybody BUT Prosise on that play, especially given the time and timeout situation. IF it is true that Wilson feels great and is actually close to healthy, than the lack of explosion and true threat from his feet is a matter of his head, and not his body–because he shows virtually none of the movement skills that has driven defenses nuts for years.

      • andy

        Hawkdawg

        Good points. I don’t doubt RW has audibled out of calls, but the frequency, not quite sure if it is frequent. Regarding the reads, that might be true, but it is not like he hasn’t seen those types of defense before. We can take one or two plays, out of every game, and use them as a “baseline” to determine what he sees or does not see. It is applicable to all QBs. Because if he has executed that last pass, then we probably would not be here to discuss the reads issue. But I do agree with Brian about that “curious” pass to the running back in losing precious seconds. It seems he is not making good decisions during high pressurized situations that we are so used to see in the past. It is the trend that I would be concerned about.

        I don’t think it is his mental game relating to the functions of football, but psychologically IMO. Football is a fast-moving game that is well-organized and structured, which contradicts to the nature of the game, which bases on instincts. RW is blessed w/ great natural athleticism and a great brain. For some reasons, he thinks he can only “survives” by his natural instincts (i.e. athleticism via his legs) and not “transferring” the instincts of his mental capacity. But I guess when you are in fight or fly mode, you always resort to your basic instincts as a survival mechanism.

  3. andy

    Unless RW is 100 percent, I just don’t see the offense will improve. This offense is predicated on RW’s mobility, which in a sense, sad. I, for once, didn’t want him to get injured, but in that context, I’ve thought that will force him to utilize his mental capacity more than ever, instead relying solely on his athleticism. He has all the tangibles and intangibles to be a first ballot HOF, based on his trends, qb, but for some reasons, he does not seem very “sharp” so far. It appears he does not trust anyone else but his legs. I am aware that RW, historically, is a slow starter, but I haven’t seem the indecisivness in his decision-making process like this year. Not quite sure what it is.

    The defense has been great but they are not the same w/o MB. Missing him for the next 2-3 weeks will be very challenging. Too much time on the field hasn’t helped. Very disappointed in the secondary w/ all the hypes coming out of the training camp. RS is not having a very good year. Personally, I think DS has outplayed him so far. We still have more than 1/2 a season to go. Don’t think the running game will get better, even w/ TR coming back, we just don’t know about his status. Ifedi has been a disappointment, to be fair he just came back from an injury, same as Glowinski. Only JB has outperformed expectation on that OL. For some reasons, the coaching staff does not have a lot of faith in CM, I can understand why, but still, rely heavily on an injured qb is somewhat mystified. Not even question about the identity of this team. Can someone “identify” it? Whatever they decided to do, don’t lose the homefield because we will not make to the big dance w/o it.

    • Mark Dewees

      I disagree on the defense especially the Secondary. Honestly the team that has much success against Sherman was Atlanta and maybe B. Marshal (and that was offset by to huge interceptions). Other than that it has been mostly inderneath stuff and a very committed run game. Not having Bennett and Kam really hurt our run defense. Mcray is good but he is no Kam Chancellor. Kam was actually having really good season till he got hurt. Not having Mike B. might be the biggest issue cause he is just so disruptive in the backfield

      • andy

        I guess we can agree to disagree. Here are some of the metrics that do not reflect well on our secondary. Passer rating defense-80.6 vs. 79.6 in 2015); Passing touchdown percentage per game (50% in 2016 vs. 46.88% in 2015); Passing yards per attempt (7 in 2016 vs. 6.1 in 2015); Sack rates- 8.1 (4th in the league)

        Here are the all the QBs that we have faced so far and their ratings

        Ryan Tannehill- 87.5
        Case Keenum- 77.5
        Blaine Gabbert- 69.5
        Ryan Fitzpatrick- 68
        Matt Ryan- 115.8
        Carson Palmer- 87.9
        Drew Brees- 104.7
        The league average is 88.8. So 5 out of the 7 are at the average or below and we’re at 81, which is still below average but given the facts we faced mediocre QBs, then the number should be even lower when our first and second level of defense have been outstanding.

  4. Dani

    Russell Wilson needs to trust his abilities without his mobility. In the Jets game when he knew he had to play from the pocket, he did it with time and rhythm. Saints defense is worse than Jets and yet he was jittery in the pocket. I feel with his mobility coming back, he’s become more indecisive. It’s like he doesn’t trust himself to throw from the pocket when he has the option to scramble. Very odd and disturbing trend. He hasn’t been sharp the last 3 games and we need him to make quick decisions. He has become check down king and doesn’t seem to be playing situational football. Feels like he is in a slump

  5. pkgoode

    I have a weakness for ratios, and one that stood out in this game was Points Per Minute of Possession. For the season, the Saints average ~0.9; yesterday’s average was ~0.7 (22% less than average).

    New Orleans held the ball yesterday for 36:12, versus a season average of 31.12. That extra five minutes meant 3.5 points, or the difference between Seattle needing a TD at the end instead of an FG.

    This is an involved way of saying that the defense was terrific yesterday, especially considering that they were on the field for 165 plays in a week (95 against ARI and 70 against NOLA). Adjusted for the Saints average time of possession, our defense gave up 21.5 points against the Saints season average of 28.7. That’s a touchdown against the second-ranked offense coming a week after the grueling slog against the Cardinals.

    I know that the Saints scored 25 points and not 21.5. This is simply a means of putting the Seahawk defensive performance in perspective.

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