Seattle’s defensive line got a new appreciation for the team’s offensive struggles on Sunday. Clinton McDonald picked up a fumble forced by Chris Clemons and took two steps before fumbling it while being tackled. Brandon Mebane had a chance for a big return late in the game after yet another Clemons strip sack, but booted the ball terribly before tripping and falling on his face. Red Bryant talked glowingly about seeing the end zone on his highlight reel interception, and had some bragging rights after going “Big Red Mode” with a vicious stiff-arm that helped him gain five yards before being tackled by Mebane who was trying unsuccessfully to block. The Seahawks offense can be hard to watch at times, but at least they are not tackling one another yet.
It would be easy to spend time lauding the Seahawks defense for a dominating effort, and the team as a whole for rallying from a humiliating start. Bragging about beating the Rams is like acing a 1st grade math test. Any good teacher can tell you getting better is hard to do when you are not sufficiently challenged. The Rams were gifted two interceptions and a 7-0 lead. They even partially blocked a punt, but there was a sense of inevitability in their demeanor. Their offense, especially, seemed to be waiting to lose. It took the Seahawks a while to realize they had hit the snooze button a few too many times. Usually a start like that on the road leads to a blowout loss. The Rams allowed the Seahawks to glance over at their alarm, see they were late for work, and still take the time to make some coffee and take a shower before starting their day.
The Seahawks run defense finally stepped up it’s game
One critical takeaway the Seahawks can be proud of was reversing the troubling trend of a run defense that appeared to be weakening. Seattle had allowed opponents an increasing amount of yards per carry for five straight weeks. This is a team that prides itself on stopping the run, and sacrifices a lot in pass pressure in order to do so. The defense was on the field for so long through the first seven games of the year (2nd most in the NFL), that it was not surprising to see evidence of wear.
The Seahawks have now won the time of possession battle three straight games. They have rushed for an average of 135 yards per game, and averaged 37 rushing attempts per game. Each game featured at least as many runs as passes, and significantly more runs than passes in both the Baltimore and St. Louis games. The timing of this new found commitment to the run could not have come at a better time for a defense that desperately needed a break from shouldering so much of the burden. Yesterday’s game features a Seahawks defense that looked refreshed. The quality of the opponent certainly factors in, but don’t forget that Stephen Jackson had rushed for an average of 139 yards his last three games and was boasting a yards per carry of over 5 for the season.
Take note that this was the second-straight week that an opposing offensive coordinator fashioned a pass-first game plan against the Seahawks. There was much talk about Ray Rice getting only a handful of touches while Joe Flacco threw the ball 52 times last week. Jackson carried the ball 15 times while Sam Bradford threw it 40 on Sunday, and it was not just because the Rams fell behind. The Rams came out in empty backfield a number of times and were attempting a bunch of quick passes to avoid pressure. They did not have a running back in the backfield on a 3rd and 1 play until late in the third quarter. This was a plan, but not a particularly effective one. Teams are starting to question their ability to run against the Seahawks before the game even begins. They are going away from their strengths to probe for weaknesses. Anytime you can force an opponent to beat you in a way they are unaccustomed to playing, you are greatly increasing the chances of victory. Convincing teams to forego their strengths before the game even begins is a special thing indeed.
Seattle’s secondary was nearly as intimidating as the rush defense. The Rams tried a few deep passes, but had little success. Brandon Browner got his weekly illegal contact penalty, but it kept Brandon Lloyd from making a 40-yard gain. You decide which you would prefer. The Rams went right back to Lloyd on Browner the next play and Browner swatted the ball away. Lloyd has been a revelation for the moribund Rams passing game since he was acquired, but the Seahawks corners held him to 5 receptions in 14 targets. He was at 2 catches in 10 targets, before a few meaningless catches late. Richard Sherman had a decent game, but allowed a touchdown and dropped two interceptions that hit him square in the hands. Still, the team lowered it’s cumulative opponent passer rating to 72.5 since Sherman became a starter versus Cleveland. Roy Lewis deserves a shout-out for his best game since returning from injury. Lewis played well in coverage, had 0.5 sacks and recovered McDonald’s fumble.
Bradford’s rating stood at 100.8 after one quarter, while Tarvaris Jackson slumped at 16.7. Jackson, however, had a 98.3 passer rating after his first two throws (both interceptions), while Bradford slumped to 47.3 after the first quarter. The two quarterbacks finished with nearly identical ratings of 55.6 for Jackson and 60.5 for Bradford, but it was clear which player was better by day’s end. How many people would have predicted Jackson would outplay Bradford when the season began? Don’t, though, get carried away. Jackson had his worst game since the Dallas game, and that was only two weeks ago. He was holding onto the ball too long, was inaccurate, and made a number of poor decisions. It is impossible to know if his injury is getting worse, his injured line was adding pressure, or he just is not a great quarterback.
The offensive line looked exactly as one would expect, half-baked. Max Unger and Russell Okung had another strong game, but Paul McQuistan and Breno Giacomini were over-matched. The right side of the line looked like it did the first three weeks of the season, but the unfortunate difference is that the potential for steep improvement is not as likely with a veteran like McQuistan or a practice squad signee like Giacomini.
Seattle has an interesting stretch in the schedule where they play at home three games in a row, including a Thursday and Monday night game. There is not a game on the schedule the team can’t win, but there’s also not a game they couldn’t lose. The new commitment to the run is crucial to continued success, and may lead to the defense reaching heights not seen so far. A fresher defense could cause more turnovers, more pressure, and give the offense shorter fields to play on. Just don’t ask them to play offense.