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.
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.
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.