Some will write about backsliding or regression when describing the Seahawks atrocious performance on Sunday. That would indicate they have been this bad before. They have not. When the offense failed to produce a touchdown against the Rams or the Cardinals, it was at least against two of the most talented defensive fronts in the NFL. This was different. This was every single member of the offensive line getting owned by a mostly mediocre defensive line. If those earlier games were the equivalent of man living in caves, this was all the way back to primordial muck. No two cells could combine to form any type of complex entity. Making matters worse, the rest of the team failed to show up until the first quarter was over. It was the exceedingly rare moment when a Pete Carroll led Seahawks team did not come ready to play. What should have been a relatively blissful finish to the season, now becomes a tightrope walk.
Offensive line sets new low
Pass protection is multi-faceted. You have read that from me before. Receivers need to get open, the coach needs to call the right play against the coverage, the protection must be set correctly, the quarterback must make the right read and get rid of the ball quickly enough. Oh, and the offensive line has to block. I have always attempted to be even-handed in assessing where the breakdowns were even when the popular opinion was as simplistic as “every sack is the fault of the offensive line.” There was no sharing of the blame on this day. The line was an embarrassment. They got owned when the team passed. They got owned when the team handed the ball off. It would be an affront to the english language to call what they did “blocking.” It was more like flailing.
Players were getting beat immediately off the snap. George Fant had a terrible day. So did Germain Ifedi. So did Garry Gilliam and Bradley Sowell. Joey Hunt was not the major problem. What’s worse, they were getting beat by pedestrian players after having essentially shutout one of the the league’s best defensive lines just last week. Noah Spence is a decent rookie who had 4.0 sacks before this game, and never more than one in a game. Fant made him look like Lawrence Taylor off the edge. Ryan Russell has one tackle on the year and zero sacks before notching one on Sunday. Gerald McCoy is a great player, but Ifedi was ragdolled.
The commentators mentioned multiple times that the Bucs coach had spent the week making this about proving their toughness against the league’s toughest opponent. It was shameful to see the offensive line allow themselves to be outmuscled instead of coming out as the aggressors. They can miss a block or get beat by a better player. It will happen. What can never happen is starting the game on your heels and finishing the game on your heels. There is a code associated with Seahawks football. It is that, win or lose, always be physical and always finish. The line broke that code on both counts. They may be wearing the uniform, but they did not look like Seahawks. I have no harsher words to offer.
None of this erases what these young men did in previous games when real progress was apparent. None of it assumes inexperienced guys like Fant and Ifedi cannot get better. The point here is that, never again should we see this line be less physical than their opponent. J.R. Sweezy and Breno Giacomini got beat plenty of times. Their opponents never left the game without plenty of bruises.
Jermaine Kearse needs to step up or step aside
In the midst of a total system failure, it may seem unfair to pick on one guy, especially a receiver who is highly dependent on other parts of the system working. Jermaine Kearse has been working up to this moment for weeks. He has caught 7 passes in 22 targets over the past four games. That is a 31% catch rate. Not good. Not bad. That is awful. He has failed to get separation much of the year, and has not made the tough catches like he sometimes has in the past. It has been more annoyance than critical issue due to the sterling play of his counterparts, but we should be at least be reaching the point of true competition at that spot. The straw that broke the camel’s back for me came on a play that many folks likely barely noticed. It happened at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
The Seahawks once again were backed up against their own end zone, but had started to claw their way out. Russell Wilson scrambled for 7 yards. Then he hit Doug Baldwin on a diving catch in traffic 8 more. A rare first down with two of the team’s stars sacrificing their bodies to get whatever they could. Wilson fired another pass to Jimmy Graham, who took a big hit over the middle to pick up 9 more yards. Thomas Rawls threw his body into the line to barely get the yard necessary for a first down. It seemed like every player on the offense was stepping forward to contribute to a drive that could turn the tide. Then Wilson fired a pass to his right toward Kearse. It was a little low, but was probably the easiest play of the ones made so far on that drive. The ball traveled right through Kearse’s hands and hit the ground.
You have to make that play. The team needs it. He did not. What should have been second and short became second and long. This was not a day where the team could overcome failed plays or long yardage situations. Kearse would wind up with 1 catch in 5 targets on the day. That, after 2 catches in 6 targets last week and 2 catches in 7 targets the week before. Not good enough.
The question is who has earned the right to step forward and challenge Kearse for snaps? Paul Richardson would be the obvious choice, but he made the type of mistake in yesterday’s game that will give any coach pause about providing him more snaps. On Wilson’s first interception to end the first half, it appeared that Wilson made a bad throw. Like so often is the case, however, it was a quarterback throwing to a spot in anticipation of where the receiver was going to be. Richardson was supposed to carry his route further inside where Wilson threw the ball, but kept going straight downfield. Carroll made mention of the error in his postgame press conference.
Had that play not happened, there would be a decent argument to be made for Richardson earning more snaps. He has made some tough catches and absorbed big hits in recent weeks. He has more physical gifts than Kearse, and is better able to create separation and run after the catch. The most likely scenario is Kearse will remain the starter and get all the snaps and targets he is currently getting. We can hope that he starts to play better as the season winds down. For now, signing him to a three-year deal when guys like Anquan Boldin and Kenny Britt were available for less money is looking like a move the Seahawks will regret.
Special teams sputter
In a game like this when the defense gets rocked early and the offense is struggling to get anything going, the special teams can be the spark that turns things around. Jon Ryan is having a year that measures right up there with past seasons in terms of gross and net averages for punting. Beneath the numbers, though, Ryan has been having one of his most disappointing years when it comes to flipping the field and bailing the team out. There have been countless times where I have found myself thinking, “Come on, Jon. Give us a big kick,” only to have Ryan kick short or low or both.
In Ryan’s defense, he did uncork one big kick that looked like it could flip the field, only to have the coverage team blow it and allow a big return.
These may seem like nits in the grand scheme, and they are, but a big kick when the team is struggling can give the defense the advantage it needs to make a big play or just give the offense a fighting chance with better field position when they next get the ball. That just has not happened as often this year as it has in the past. I thought Ryan had a down year last year and was a little surprised the team signed him to a long deal without even considering some youthful competition. He has been better this year, but not to the standard he set in years prior. He can help this team a lot the rest of the way by raising his game.
No pass rush
Seattle was held without a sack for just the second time this season. Tampa Bay features two of the weakest pass protecting tackles in the game, but they were made to look like Walter Jones much of the day. Jameis Winston had oodles of time to throw the ball downfield. The only thing approaching a sack was when Frank Clark was pulled down in the end zone, but that was because he was being blocked by a tight end. Winston was mediocre all afternoon without any pass pressure. Imagine the types of mistakes he would have made if Seattle could have made him feel rushed.
Mike Evans coverage plan was baffling
It did not take a genius to decipher the Bucs game plan on offense. It was:
- Run the ball to show we are tough
- Throw it to Mike Evans every single time
Somehow, the Seahawks took over a quarter to figure that out. Evans was left open time and again. It is too easy to say that Richard Sherman should have matched up with him every snap because the team does not play man coverage all the time, and doing so here would have also put more pressure on Jeremy Lane, Neiko Thorpe and Steven Terrell. Evans was still too often left to roam free in zone coverage. Whatever the plan, it did not work. Evans caught multiple crucial third down conversions and both the touchdowns. Never let one man beat you.
Seattle took a measured risk in holding out players like DeShawn Shead and Justin Britt this week. Both could have played. It was an understandable gamble that did not pay off. There is reason to expect both will be back this week, along with Mike Morgan. Michael Bennett is a possibility, as is Earl Thomas. That is a lot of goodness on tap. Whoever pulls on a Seahawks uniform next Sunday will need to come out far hungrier than the team we saw yesterday.
The Seahawks have become the powerhouse they are not by reputation or talent, but by force of will and strength of character. No team in the history of the sport has been more consistent in their approach for such a long period of time. This game was startling not in the outcome, but the way in which it unfolded. Meek is not a word that should ever describe this team, but it was fitting in this game.
Their play in recent weeks had been inspiring. This was just disappointing. They are firm control of their own destiny. Only two road games remain, and one is against the 49ers. There was some cushion to secure the second seed, and some chance of snagging the top seed in the playoffs. That is gone now. The return of some of their top talent will be a welcome sight. The return of their unbendable will and unmatched character is far more critical to where we all want them to go.