The Seahawks have opened on the road against a division opponent eight times in franchise history. After Sunday’s loss to the St. Louis Rams, their record now stands at 1-7 in those games, with their only victory coming 27 years ago in 1988 versus the Denver Broncos. When your team loses the opener, especially to a lesser team, it is easy to fall into the “we suck” frame of mind. And make no mistake, there were some very disturbing things that happened on that field yesterday. Opening on the road is tough, though, and doing it against a division opponent is even tougher. Kevin Kolb and John Skelton beat the Seahawks three seasons ago in a road opener, and Seattle later beat them 58-0 that same season. Seattle trounced the Packers in the (home) opener last year and Percy Harvin looked unstoppable before the team stumbled to a 6-4 start. Opening games are rarely a good indicator of how a season will go. That may be the best news for the Seahawks after a disappointing performance.
It started out with a bang. St. Louis lost nine yards on their first play, and then another two on their second, just barely avoiding a safety. A false start on their third play had them mere inches outside their own endzone before a desperation QB sneak on third down got them a few yards. The dominant stand setup the most satisfying moment of the day when Tyler Lockett returned the ensuing punt 57 yards for a touchdown.
That dominance quickly faded as the Rams drove 80 yards, including converting on a 3rd and 15 in their own territory, for a tying touchdown. A meager Rams offense managed a gag-inducing three touchdown drives of 80 yards or more on the day, including one to tie the game late.
This was not the Seahawks defense of the past three seasons. Specifically, the pass coverage bordered on atrocious. There were clear signs of miscommunication on a few plays. The first that comes to mind was when K.J. Wright tried to handoff Jared Cook to Cary Williams on the first Rams touchdown drive, and Williams was not there to defend Cook on what became one of an alarming number of 20+ yard plays for the Rams.
The run defense was pretty darn good. St. Louis managed just 76 yards and 2.9 yards per carry on the day. Even covering the wide receivers went pretty well. Stedman Bailey had only 3 catches and Kenny Britt had just 2 for 37 yards. The problems came defending running backs on swings and screens and tight ends. That should be on the linebackers and the strong safety in most cases.
We all know one of them was definitely on the strong safety, as Dion Bailey tripped while trying to defend Lance Kendricks on the game-tying touchdown. The Seahawks linebackers, though, seemed a step slow all afternoon. They talked a bit about missed tackles after the game, but it felt like those occurred because the players were late to the spot and then needing to make desperation attempts to bring down the ball carrier.
Scoring 31 points should be enough to win any game. In fact, the Seahawks had won 22 straight times when scoring that many points before Sunday.
Seattle had won 22 straight games when scoring 31 points or more before losing on Sunday
More disturbing than offensive line play, this team cannot lose games when they put up that many points.
Eyes on Kris Richard
Pete Carroll’s defenses are predicated on eliminating explosive plays, stopping the run, and taking the ball away. Seattle did well on two of three fronts against the Rams. Their performance against big plays was one of the worst since Carroll arrived. St. Louis ended with a ridiculous eight plays over 20 yards. Seattle gave up a league-best 32 such plays all of last year.
The only team to have more 20+ yard plays against the Seahawks during the Carroll era was the Raiders (9) in 2010, when the team had one of the lesser defenses in the league. All eight 20+ yard plays were passes.
It could be the absence of Kam Chancellor. It could be rust from the first game of the year. It could be the cost of working in new players. All of those are contributing factors, but the one that has my attention is the play calling of new defensive coordinator Kris Richard.
He has shown a greater willingness to send pressure via blitzes than his predecessors. That can result in big plays like Williams strip sack and touchdown that should have won the game. It can also result in big plays for the opposing offense.
Limiting big plays does not usually go hand-in-hand with sending extra players in for pass pressure. In fact, the opposite is often true unless you have a shutdown secondary. I don’t believe this secondary is close to earning that trust yet. Richard needs to recognize what he has and not lose touch with what made this defense the best in football three straight years.
Offensive is right
The line was a leap of faith going into this game. We knew that the Rams front line was a challenge no matter who Seattle put out there. The first drive was encouraging. Seattle was getting push in the running game and Russell Wilson was making quick throws in the passing game.
The team converted a 4th and 1, and seemed headed for an opening drive score when Aaron Donald broke through for his first sack of the day. The line was mostly a disaster in pass protection for the game. Seattle tried to max protect on a number of occasions, but Jimmy Graham and Luke Willson are not great options as pass blockers. Zach Miller, where art thou?
Wilson showed some signs of improvement in getting rid of the ball quickly, and completed a career high 78% of his passes on the day. Still, he got himself into trouble a number of times by letting his eyes drop and trying to find some space instead of just throwing the ball away or making the easy decision to dump off to a receiver or back close by.
Seattle converted seven straight 3rd or 4th and short (2 yards or less) before failing on the final 4th and 1
If there is one positive to take away from the offensive line performance, it was that they got terrific push on 3rd and short and 4th and short. Yes, they lost the game when Lynch couldn’t get a 4th and 1 converted, but they had converted all seven of their prior changes on 3rd or 4th and less than 2 yards in the game. That is an accomplishment against a Rams line that is stacked with talent.
Deion Sanders did it. Devin Hester did it. Patrick Peterson did it. And now Tyler Lockett has done it. Just nine players since the NFL/AFL merger have returned a punt for a touchdown in their very first game. Only three had done it on their very first chance (Otis Amey, Deion Sanders, Dale Carter). Lockett became the fourth on Sunday.
He also caught four passes in four targets. Only four Seahawks rookie receivers have had four or more receptions in their first game:
Doug Baldwin Jr.
That’s pretty good company. Seattle has something special in that kid.
Lost in the depression of kicking a game they should have won was yet another example of this team performing their best when their backs are against the wall. Seattle trailed by 11 points heading into the fourth quarter and stormed back to take a 31-24 lead.
Remarkably, the last three times the Seahawks have trailed by 11+ points heading into the final quarter of a game, they have come back to take the lead:
@ Rams on Sunday
@ Texans in 2013
@ Falcons in 2012 playoffs
To give you some idea of how rare that has been for this franchise, the Seahawks went a decade between occurrences before the Falcons game. The fact that they have now done it the last three times they have been in that situation is remarkable.
Graham debut may have been better than it looked
I checked on how Jimmy Graham had performed against the Rams before the game, hoping to find evidence that he was going to be the key to finally figuring out how to score against these guys. What I found was that Graham had struggled as much against the Rams in his career as the Seahawks.
Graham finished Sunday with 6 catches for 51 yards and 1 touchdown. Each of those numbers represented career highs against the Rams. Graham’s previous best game was 4 catches for 39 yards. Take it for what it’s worth, but I find it encouraging that Drew Brees was not able to get this level of production out of Graham against this defense.
Other bits and bites
The nine 3rd down conversions for the Seahawks were the most since November of 2013 against the Falcons during their blowout victory
The Seahawks converted 42% of their 3rd downs on Sunday. They did not convert 42% or better of their 3rd downs until week six last season
352 total yards was the most a Pete Carroll defense has surrendered to a Rams offense
Seattle has now lost 36 regular season games in a row when allowing 27+ points. Their last win was in 2006 against…the St. Louis Rams 30-28.
Seattle is 1-42 in their last 43 games when allowing 27+ points in a game, if you include the playoffs. Their one win was in 2010 against the Saints in the Beast Quake game (41-36).
By comparison, the Patriots have won four of their last six games when allowing 27+ points
Seattle had won 11 straight games when getting 3 takeaways
The Seahawks are now 22-2 when getting 3+ takeaways under Carroll
The 10 targets and 8 receptions were both career highs for Jermaine Kearse
The last time the franchise had 3+ takeaways and 2+ return touchdowns and lost a game was in 2000 vs the Denver Broncos
The immediate reaction to a loss like this against a team like the Rams is to assume the worst. Green Bay is certainly more well regarded than St. Louis, and playing in Lambeau Field is certainly a tougher venue. The reality might not match perception there. The Packers gave up 190 yards rushing the to Bears and over 400 yards of offense. Seattle may have just faced the best defensive line in the NFL, and finished with over 100 yards rushing and both their running backs at over 4 yards per carry.
Wilson was sacked 6 times, but had the highest completion percentage of his career and threw for over 250 yards. This was just the 12th time he has thrown for that many yards in a regular season game. There is reason for optimism on offense.
The real problem is on defense. Seattle gave away far too much to an offense that will struggle to be mediocre this year. They will have to make a major leap forward this week to slow down what will be a supremely motivated and talented Packers offense. The good news there is that if anyone can diagnose the big play problems they had on Sunday, it is Carroll. The run defense was great, so this is really about isolating on pass coverages and being smart about when to bring pressure and when to sit back in zone.
It is never easy to start the season with so much anticipation and endure such a disappointing result. No team is better equipped to bounce back than this one.