The Seahawks are once again NFC West champions. The method in which they won the title befitted the rest of the NFL season. It was more a battle of which team could play worse than which team could prove their strength. Seahawks fans have reason to wring their hands about the mostly distasteful performances over the past four games, but were they to lift their heads, they would see much of the same around the league. No team and no fanbase has reason to feel overconfident about how their team will fare in the playoffs. The Seahawks stand atop the trash heap known as this season’s NFC West. Nobody should apologize for their accomplishment any more than the eventual Super Bowl winner should apologize for theirs. The Seahawks just punched their ticket to playoffs. There is plenty of work left to do if they want to raise another trophy.
Tyler Lockett ascended to his rightful place as the second receiver on offense. He rewarded coaches for making what should have been an obvious decision by catching seven passes in eight targets for 130 yards and a touchdown. Jermaine Kearse was not targeted. Tanner McEvoy also saw increased action. These were positive developments. Russell Wilson completing 19 of 26 pass attempts may be related.
Doug Baldwin had an absolutely filthy move to get open for a touchdown.
— NFL (@NFL) December 16, 2016
The defense allowed just three points and held the Rams to 183 yards for the game. Seattle showed some positive signs on third down where they went 7-15 on offense and held the Rams to 3-12 on defense. They also did well in the red zone going 2-3 on offense and keeping the Rams from finding the end zone in three attempts.
The pass rush was back to being disruptive as three different players recorded sacks, and it would have been four if Michael Bennett’s sack was not erased due to penalties. They also had a season-high 10 tackles for loss in what was a disruptive day for the defensive line.
That Rams offensive line is truly terrible, but the Panthers line was riddled with injuries and the Seahawks did not record a single sack. This was progress. Bennett still does not quite look like himself, but he appeared to be getting his mojo back just a bit before exiting the game with a neck injury.
It is worth noting that as bad as the Rams are, this represented a pretty good showing on offense compared to what we have seen in past years. This was the largest margin of victory by Carroll over the Rams in his tenure as coach.
Wilson still not right
Wilson still began the night missing high on a few throws, and his usually impeccable judgment was absent again on a few plays. Much was made of the play call to pass on first and goal from the 1-yard line, and we will discuss that more shortly, but the decision to make that throw and the placement of that throw were equally disturbing. Turnovers in the red zone are completely unacceptable. Turnovers at the 1-yard line are even worse. Turnovers on first down at the 1-yard line are the worstiest worst (yes, that bad). Wilson finished his night by throwing a jump ball to three Rams defenders for no good reason that resulted in an interception and likely took points off the board as the team was in field goal range. His numbers were great, but this was not the return to form many are claiming it to be.
Nobody is perfect. Wilson does his best to reach that unreachable line. I sure hope someone is pulling him aside and reminding him what makes him great is not flinging the ball all over the field to any player he desires. It is his ability to properly identify the opportunities that strike the right balance between risk and reward that make him special. He is not just a check down and make the easy throw guy. He is not a Jay Cutler-esque ego who believes every player is always open and he can teleport a ball through defenders. He is a much better player than he has shown the last few weeks. There may be no more important task the next two weeks than to help Wilson rediscover his authentic quarterback self and the deft touch that goes along with it.
Steven Terrell was exposed
It was just one play, and it went for exactly zero yards. Yet, the ball that flew over Steven Terrell’s head and was dropped by a Rams receiver was disturbing nonetheless. This defense is predicated on taking away the deep ball. Nobody passed the ball over Earl Thomas. At least, not since his rookie season. Terrell’s mistake will clearly invite more challenges from the teams playing Seattle the rest of the way, and quarterbacks better than Jared Goff (all of them?) will not make the same mistakes. We can hope this was a learning moment the same way Thomas had a few as a rookie. That Terrell was so clearly fooled was troubling, though, and will be something to watch.
Seattle finished the day with 13 penalties for 86 yards. At one point, they had almost as many penalty yards as the Rams had offensive yards. They came in every variety, but most were completely unforced mental errors. Five false starts, multiple offsides, and one too many pelvic thrusts were among the lowlights. The Seahawks offense simply is not good enough right now to overcome five yard penalties. There is no excuse for these types of mistakes.
The run game
Aaron Donald and crew made life miserable for Thomas Rawls and the run game. There were few bright spots.
Sherman and his defensive brethren have lost games this year when holding teams to 9 and 14 points, and tied a game where they allowed 6 points in five quarters. When the offense lined up at the 1-yard line on first down and chose to throw the ball, every person who cares about this Seahawks team should have been up in arms. That a player who is putting his body on the line time and again to prop up what has been a mostly inept offense reacted vociferously to the decision should come as no surprise. Carroll’s first rule is: Always Protect the Team. Most would say Sherman confronting Carroll on the sideline violated that rule. What I saw was a player advocating for his team, his teammates, and their identity.
Sherman could have found a more respectful way to share his opinion, but I have no problem with an employee challenging management, especially when their work and effort is exemplary. The issue here is not that Sherman erupted. It is that the Seahawks coaches do not feel confident enough in their run game to call the obvious play in that situation and they likely are losing some confidence in their quarterback’s decision making in those moments after he nearly threw a pick. We should all be as angry as Sherman is. Baldwin has every reason to be upset that one year after leading the NFL in touchdowns, he ranks 30th in the league in red zone targets.
Doug Baldwin leads the NFL in red zone touchdown efficiency (min 12 targets), scoring a touchdown on 50% of his targets. Yet, he ranks just 30th in the league in red zone targets and has just one more red zone target than Jermaine Kearse this year.
When coaches see players making bad choices, they call them on it and help them get better. If players see the same things happening with coaches, the team should welcome that input because it makes the team better. I am sure Carroll will speak with Sherman to find a better forum for the discussion, but he will listen.
Seattle plays next Saturday in what will be their final regular season home game. It will be against another division foe who has struggled this season but gives the Seahawks plenty of problems. It may be their last chance to face a great defense for a number of weeks, and the last chance for the offense to gain some confidence. That unit is not finishing the season the way Carroll or anyone in that locker room would have wanted or expected. This feels like a group that is stepping back, or at best, stepping sideways. The elevation of Lockett to the number two receiver is one reason for optimism.
This is still the team that beat the Falcons and the Patriots. This is still the team with the league’s best defense and an offense that is averaging 24 points per game over their last seven even with games of 10 and 5 points mixed in. Projecting their future has become far more difficult, though, as they seem to have lost their way a bit. The talent, the character, the coaching…all the ingredients are still there. They have two weeks left to get right.