The Morning After: Seahawks Give Divisional Little Brother Rams a Noogie, Win 16-10
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It is prom night. Your little brother appears at the top of the stairs dressed in his tuxedo, freshly showered and groomed. Every strand of hair is perfectly placed, and you can tell he is feeling good about how he looks. Mom is glowing and gushing as he walks down the stairs, further inflating his confidence and broadening his smile. You have been through this before. You know the drill. He reaches the ground floor and after receiving hugs from mom and dad, he immediately finds a mirror to take in his brilliance. You have no choice. It is noogie time. He is so enraptured with himself, he never sees it coming. Shocked and annoyed, he stomps back upstairs to redo his hair. Such is the life of the little brother. He may one day be bigger, stronger, and faster, but not now. Not yet. Todd Gurley, Jared Goff and his offensive teammates got the little brother treament on Sunday from a dominant Seahawks defense, falling to second place as Seattle notched their second division win.
All NFL games are Rorschach tests. Few people see the same thing. This game was no different. While many Seahawks fans celebrated a massively important road victory over what appears to be their only real division foe, plenty of others were more focused on the offensive ineptitude that resulted in just 16 points despite five Rams turnovers. I would wager those same people came into the game telling anyone who would listen that the Seahawks had no chance to win. If you fall into that camp, consider a few facts, starting with a bit of history.
The last time the Seahawks beat the Rams on the road was four years ago. They have done it only twice in the Pete Carroll era. That team, which went on to win the Super Bowl, put up a far more inferior offensive performance. That game also came down to the last play, with Kellen Clemens throw into the endzone getting broken up by Brandon Browner to seal the victory. Yeah, but the Seahawks got FIVE takeaways today! That is true. They also had two giveaways. That net turnover differential was just one better yesterday than it was four years ago.
That team had Marshawn Lynch! Yep, and he finished with 23 yards compared to 20 for Thomas Rawls. That offensive line was so much better! Well, that Rams defense did not even have Aaron Donald and managed 7 sacks versus the 3 Seattle surrendered on Sunday.
As an aside, that game was also the last time the Seahawks held an opponent to 0-4 in the red zone.
Nobody should be claiming the Seahawks played well on offense yesterday. They did not. This attitude, though, that the win does not matter because the Seahawks offense is doomed just does not hold water. We have proof that a dominant Super Bowl team can have games this bad and worse, especially against divisional opponents. Care to re-live the home loss to the Cardinals that year when the offense managed just 192 yards (89 passing) and 10 points despite 4 Arizona turnovers? I didn’t think so.
Maybe you prefer the 306 yards of offense the Seahawks put up last year in Los Angeles and only 3 points, or the 343 yards and 31 points they posted in St. Louis the year before, or the 463 yards and 26 points in 2014. All those games were losses. That did not stop the Seahawks from winning the division in 2 of those 3 seasons, and winning a playoff game each time. They won this game. Revel in that.
No team has found more creative ways to torment an opposing fan base than the Rams to the Seahawks. There have been multiple fake punts, fake returns, and fake field goals. There have been so…many…sacks. Austin Davis has beat Seattle. Nick Foles has beat Seattle. Case Keenum has beat Seattle. Not this day. Not this game.
You cannot both talk up the fear factor of Donald, Robert Quinn, Michael Brockers and crew, and then bemoan the fact that the offense did not produce more. You cannot criticize them for scoring 16 points without acknowledging that they led the comeback from 10 points down to tie it at halftime, and then scored on their third straight possession to take the lead they would not relinquish.
The highest scoring offense in the NFL scored 10 points. Your offense scored more. We win.
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Enough about the offense, how about that defense?
Holy moly. What a treat that was to witness. Bookmark that bad boy because that will be one to reminisce about whenever this stretch of defensive dominance subsides. Earl Thomas was the best player on the field. I have been frustrated by the lack of playmakers on defense so far this year. Being assignment-correct is the key to repeatable defense, but great defenses eventually make great plays. Thomas was one of a number of Seahawks defenders who made great plays on Sunday.
It is hard to say if it was more remarkable that Thomas closed on Gurley inches before the goal line to strip the ball free and force a turnover, or that the replay officials actually made the correct call. We have all seen more obvious calls go against Seattle in the past. This was the second time Thomas has made almost that exact same play, both coming against the Rams. The plays were the least remarkable part. It was the purity in Thomas’ belief in how the game is meant to be played that made both plays elite.
Ahead 20-6 at home in 2014, Seattle was well on its way to victory when Shaun Hill started marching the Rams downfield late in the 4th quarter. On the drives 10th play, Hill spotted RB Benny Cunningham open for what should have been an easy touchdown. Most humans would have done the mental calculation and determined there was little that could be done to stop Cunningham from scoring, and comforted themselves with the thought that it didn’t really matter anyway since the Seahawks were going to win. Thomas is not human.
He teleported across the field and knocked the ball out of Cunningham’s hand at the goal line, causing a fumble that went through the end zone and gave possession to the Seahawks. His play on Sunday against Gurley was similar both in outcome and in exchanging hopeless for ecstatic. No reasonable person would have expected anything but a touchdown when Gurley turned the corner. He was the NFL leader in touchdowns coming into this game, and had plenty of space to accelerate toward the goal line.
Nobody accelerates like Thomas. It was a rare stroke of luck that the ball fell out of Gurley’s hands and hit the pylon. It never hit the ground. Had the ball not hit the pylon, it would have been nearly impossible to determine where it went out of bounds. But it did.
This was a game where the ball bounced Seattle’s way a few different times. A bobbled pass on a screen fell into Sheldon Richardson’s massive arms. Jarran Reed collapsed the pocket and hit Goff’s arm as he threw, causing the ball to float directly into Thomas’ arms. Tavon Austin was generous enough to fumble a second punt return after the Seahawks failed to stand close to him on the first. Clark bested Whitworth and strip sacked Goff. The ball was scooped up by Richardson.
Seattle has had a lot of trouble creating these moments the past couple of years. There were a few times in this game where the ball floated harmlessly to a space where no Seahawk defenders were standing. That has been far more common than the pass that goes directly to a defender. I watch too much football, and it seemed almost unfair how easy some of the turnovers are. We would like to believe the team creates their own fortune, but there will always be an element of chance to turnovers. It was an absolute joy to see luck smile on the Seahawks against a team who so often has enjoyed the better roll of the dice.
Clark was terrific in this game. Whitworth came into this game having allowed just 1 sack all season, no quarterback hits, and no quarterback hurries. That gave him a 99.2% pass blocking efficiency per ProFootballFocus.com, the best of any tackle in the NFL. Clark beat him for a sack and had 3 hurries. He also dominated Whitworth in the run game, repeatedly setting the edge and creating tackles for loss.
Clark is a better run defender than the Seahawks have had at the LEO position during Carroll’s tenure. Teams are accustomed to overpowering the smaller, leaner, defensive ends that Seattle prefers for pass-rushing purposes. Clark may wind up being the best pass rusher and the best run defender of the bunch.
Richard Sherman and Shaquill Griffin were excellent. Both players did well in coverage, especially Sherman, but what stood out was their run defense. Griffin led the team with four run stops, which are solo tackles resulting in an offensive failure. Sherman had two of his own. The starting corners exited the game with two of the top three PFF grades against the run. Clark was tops.
Griffin has done so much to prove he should be the starter opposite Sherman, let’s hope the coaches make that move coming back from the bye even if Jeremy Lane returns to health.
The Seahawks defense shut the door on Gurley after a strong start.
Gurley had just 17 yards after the first quarter
This is a guy who was second in the NFL in total yards coming into this game, averaging 150 yards of offense. He finished with just 50, and only 3.1 yards per rush. Bobby Wagner was splendid again, and may be having his best season. That the team was able to shut down the run game against a quality opponent on the road is a good sign.
Special teams shines
No matchup has put the special teams in greater focus than this one. Seattle has been made to look silly, simple, and unprepared, multiple times against the Rams special teams, sometimes in the same game. Not this time. Jon Ryan outdueled Johnny Hekker, twice downing punts inside the 10-yard line. Los Angeles wound up with zero return yards in the punt game, and a turnover. Blair Walsh has now made 9/10 field goals on the year after going a perfect 3/3 on Sunday, including a 49-yarder. Greg Zuerlein missed a chip shot that turned out to be a big deal in a close game.
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A leg up
There are plenty of flaws with this Seahawks team. Russell Wilson had another uneven performance, not seeing wide open receivers multiple times, and throwing an unacceptable interception in the red zone that was nearly returned for a touchdown. The running game has yet to find any consistency. The offensive line still gives up a lot of pressure, and it sounds as if Luke Joeckel will miss some time with a surgery to clean up his knee.
That is all true. But there are other truths. The Seahawks are in first place and own the tiebreaker in the division against their biggest threat. A defense that allowed 33 points to the Titans, has not allowed more than 18 against any other opponent and is now fifth in the NFL in scoring defense. Young players like Griffin, Nazair Jones, Clark, Justin Coleman, Paul Richardson, J.D. McKissic, Marcus Smith, and even Germain Ifedi are stepping up.
Carroll has a history of building teams that finish better than they start. This group managed to win a game on the road against a quality opponent while they are still under construction. Sure, we could all pound our chests a little harder and louder if the Seahawks had won by a larger margin, but almost nobody picked the team to win before the game started. If someone had told you last week that you could have the Seahawks win and come out of the game healthy, you would have taken it no questions asked. So take it. Enjoy it. The Seahawks are in prime position for a memorable season.