The Morning After: Hobbled Seahawks Barely Threaten Rams, Lose 9-3
So this is what a game against Jeff Fisher looks like without any trick plays or defensive scores. It felt like wading through raw sewage. They may say that NFL football has returned to Los Angeles, but I have yet to see it through two weeks. Seattle got stuck in the muck, setting off panic throughout the Northwest. The story goes that the offensive line is a disaster and the Seahawks are doomed. Fan and media reaction to this game is almost as abhorrent as the game itself. Try to separate the anger about the loss from the reality of why it happened. You will find placing this slow start at the feet of the offensive line is an oversimplification and abandoning ship on this team is irrational.
Breaking down the offensive line play
The Rams defensive line absolutely controlled the Seahawks offensive line in the run game much of the day. It played a large role in the loss, and should not be swept under the rug. That said, there are more insightful truths that reveal themselves as you put more context around what happened.
This was not new
Seattle rushed for a paltry 67 yards on 24 carries. The first reaction from many fans and media is that this line is terrible and the sky is falling. Have those people watched this series the last four seasons? Guess the last time the Seahawks offense rushed for 67 yards or less. If you said last season against the Rams (60 yards on 22 carries), you would be correct. That was by far the worst rushing performance of the season for the Seahawks, a full 40 yards less than their next worst game. Yeah, but the line sucked last season! Okay, let’s go back to the famed 2013 season. Seattle rushed for their lowest total in the past four years (44 yards on 15 carries) with Marshawn Lynch in the backfield against the Rams. That was even before Aaron Donald was in tow.
It was a terrible rushing performance. To treat it as if it was some new low is baseless grandstanding.
Not every running back is struggling
The Seahawks rushed for an unimpressive, but acceptable 110 yards in week one against an inspired Dolphins defense. More noteworthy is that the person running the ball has mattered more than most are admitting.
Christine Michael is averaging 5.0 yards per carry through two games. Thomas Rawls is averaging 1.3 yards per carry during the same time against the same defenses and behind the same line.
Rawls went down with an injury in this game and had been entirely ineffective beforehand. He lost yardage on most of his carries. Michael lost yardage on only two of his ten carries, gaining three yards or more on his other eight, and ten yards or more on four. He averaged 6.0 yards a carry in this game. That is a terrific number. He averaged a completely acceptable 4.4 yards per carry last week. It at least raises the question whether the runner is part of the problem and solution.
The pass protection was an improvement
You can scream all you want at the screen when reading that, but the numbers back it up. This was the fewest sacks allowed to a Rams defense (2) since the 2012 season. Yes, Los Angeles had 9 quarterback hits. This same Rams defense had 13 QB hits the last time these played, and that was in Seattle. They had 9 QB hits and 6 sacks in the first game last season. They had 7 QB hits and 3 sacks in both 2014 games. Oh, and that 2013 Seahawks offense gave up 7 sacks in one game against the Rams and 4 sacks in the other.
Show me where this was new low for the Seahawks in pass protection against this Rams line. Heck, one of the two sacks came right before the half when Wilson should have absolutely thrown the ball away seconds earlier to give the Seahawks a chance at a long field goal. Take a look at the protection on the pass to Tyler Lockett on the last drive. It was impeccable. Throw in that this Rams defense was as motivated as they will ever be after an embarrassing season opener, and the pass protection was almost encouraging.
No celebration over here
Separate out those facts demonstrating why this is not a four-alarm fire on the line, and you still find reason for concern. Bradley Sowell is looking like a guy who may not be a viable option at left tackle. He only surrendered one sack, but he was beaten a few times and appeared to false start a half-dozen times even if the incompetent refereeing crew only flagged him for one or two. Robert Quinn is certainly one of the tougher matchups he will have, so this is not a reason to lose all hope. It does make me wonder if John Schneider will put in a call to Cleveland and at least find out what the asking price would be for Joe Thomas.
J’Marcus Webb was seen chasing defenders in the backfield on a number of occasions. He is just not very good. This team cannot get Germain Ifedi back fast enough. I thought Garry Gilliam and Justin Britt did reasonably well again. Mark Glowinski has had some growing pains, but nothing he cannot overcome. This group needs to clear the path for over 150 yards rushing against the 49ers this week. They have to get back to Seahawks football, and that starts on the ground.
Darrell Bevell is struggling
The Dolphins gummed up the works last week. Darrell Bevell failed to adjust and the team struggled to score. He made some odd decisions this week that felt like he was reaching. There were back-to-back runs on the first two plays, even after Rawls lost two yards on the first one. There was back-to-back-to-back-to-back run calls on the second drive in the 3rd quarter. Michael had gained 10 yards and 16 yards on the first two carries, and then was replaced by Alex Collins who Bevell called on to run twice more. Collins gained no yards, leaving the team at 3rd and 10.
We have seen the Seahawks offense come to life at the end of halfs and games, even in this slow-starting season. They do that by going almost exclusively to the pass. The Rams secondary was vulnerable, but Bevell chose not to go that route and stuck with the standard mix of play calls. He was definitely hamstrung by the injuries to Tyler Lockett and Doug Baldwin, but it still seemed like he was a step behind on play calling all day and never found his rhythm.
At what point do we point the finger at the coaching staff for these slow starts to games and seasons? It is one thing to pay attention and make in-game adjustments, but is it totally out of the question for Bevell to ever have the offense in a position to have the opposing defense need to make adjustments? It feels like he gets caught sometimes trying to call a game that matches the Seahawks philosophy (run first) instead of a game that will result in scoring.
Injuries played more of a factor than people want to admit
Baldwin played almost that entire game injured. We will find out today after an MRI just how injured he was, but he was far from his normal self. The Rams also bracketed him with double teams all day. That would be fine on a normal day when Lockett could take advantage of it, but he was out almost the whole game with a knee injury. That allowed the Rams to double Jermaine Kearse as well.
Either Bevell did not call Jimmy Graham’s number very often or Russell Wilson did not dial him up enough, but he needed to be more of a factor in a game like this. Wilson’s own injury was apparent throughout. He looked uncomfortable moving in the pocket and was obviously much slower than normal when scrambling. He deserves nothing but praise for gutting it out and playing on a significant injury, especially against this defense. A fully healthy Wilson, Lockett or Baldwin may have been enough to get this win.
It will be worth watching what the team does with the receiver position this week. Tanner McEvoy was not active for this game and is very raw as a receiver. Do not be surprised if the team brings in a guy like Kevin Smith, Kasen Williams or even DeShon Foxx.
Defense was solid, if not spectacular
Faulting a defense for surrendering 9 points on the road to a supremely motivated team would be foolish. Sure, they could have done better, but they played well enough that any semblance of offense would have won the game. A few things stood out about their performance.
Pass rush continues to impress
They finished with only three sacks after Cassius Marsh had his critical play called back for a questionable facemask penalty. However, Frank Clark had two more sacks and now has 3.0 on the season, matching his full season total from a year ago. His emergence, and what appears to be a growing threat in Marsh can only lead to better things as the season wears on. Particularly encouraging was seeing the defense get sacks in key situations to move the Rams out of field goal range or what would have forced a long punt if Marsh’s sack had stood.
Run defense holds up
You had to know the Rams wanted to ride Todd Gurley as far as he could take them in this game. Seattle answered by allowing just 64 yards on the ground for the second straight week and just 2.6 yards per carry.
I saw a lot of tweets about DeShawn Shead getting “picked on” during the game and that Kenny Britt was “killing us.” Those are sure signs of a loss of perspective. The Seahawks are the #1 defense in the NFL in points and yards allowed. The Rams scored 9 points. Case Keenum threw for 239 yards. Britt had 94 yards receiving and no touchdowns. Nobody is getting picked on. Nobody is killing us. Do not fall into the trap of being so frustrated by the offense that you lose sight of how well the defense is playing.
Still could be better
There are two specific aspects of this defensive performance that could have been better. Field position played a major role in this game. Seattle started the second half and moved the ball a bit before pinning the Rams at their own 5 yard line. That should have been a time for the defense to bow up and give the offense a short field to work with. Instead, they allowed the Rams to flip the field and nearly score if not for a Clark sack.
The Seahawks pinned them again at the 13 yard line the next time. The Rams pushed out of it again and this time did score another field goal. Those two drives were chances for the defense to give their offense an advantage they clearly needed.
The Seahawks offense did not start a possession outside of their own 25 yard line all day
There are two ways for a defense to give their offense good field position. The first is to stuff a team when they are starting back near their own goal line. The other is to take the ball away. This defense has not done that through two games. Some of that is the random bounces of the football. Some of it is transitioning from being assignment sound to being smart about when to anticipate what is coming and make a play.
The sky is cloudy, not falling
Only fans of a team with incredibly high expectations would be losing their minds after their team fell to 1-1 against a tough division rival playing in their home opener in a new city after being humiliated the week before. We may hate the reality about how the Seahawks matchup to the Rams, but we cannot deny it. What happened yesterday was more infuriating than surprising. The biggest surprise was the absence of trick or fluke plays keying the Rams victory.
They beat the Seahawks three straight times and now are the only team in the NFL since 2012 to own a winning record (5-4) against Seattle (minimum of two games). This happens. It sucks. It also has not stopped the Seahawks from going to two of the last three Super Bowls and going to the playoffs each of the past four years.
That is not a reason to ignore the things that are troubling the Seahawks through two games. There are real issues that need to be dealt with. The prevailing storyline that this is just disastrous offensive line is too myopic and fails to compare to previous lines. From what I see, the Seahawks have a problem at left tackle and right guard. The hope is they could get their right guard back as early as this week or the next. That leaves a question about what they will do at left tackle. Most likely, they will do nothing. Maybe, just maybe, they will pull the trigger on a move to shore it up.
We have yet to see this offense with Michael as the featured runner. It is time for that to happen. The injury to C.J. Prosise has made things even more complicated as Collins is certainly not a good option as a third down back. I would like to see the Seahawks change the carries to give Michael closer to 20 and reduce the touches for Rawls for now. I would like to see Graham featured more in the offense to alleviate the pressure on the injured receivers.
This game against the 49ers represents the first chance for the Seahawks to play against a defensive line that does not rank among the top seven in the game. They go to New York the following week to face another terrific line. The path will not be simple or straightforward. It never is.