The Morning After: Seahawks Raise Expectations in Narrow 33-31 Loss to Juggernaut Rams
Something mysterious and magical happens during the three hours the Seahawks play every week. Fans collectively fall under a spell that causes acute amnesia. Whatever expectations they had before kickoff are wiped out. It often happens gradually in games where the distance between pregame prognostications and in-game results are diverging. The Seahawks are tied with the Rams after one quarter? Well, they can’t hang with these guys are probably still going to get blown out. At some point, the distance grows too great and the fans lose touch with their pregame beliefs. The trepidation, intimidation, and dread of facing a stacked Rams team that absolutely humiliated the Seahawks last season in Seattle is replaced with a belief that the Seahawks should win this game. For many, it goes as far as believing they should actually being playing even better, despite already completely eclipsing any reasonable expectations. That leads to anger and frustration when the result ultimately goes against your team. Some will belittle what happened as a moral victory. This was more than that. Seattle exits this game having earned the right to dream bigger, to fear no opponent. You may find yourself looking down on the coaching, the players, and the outcome, but that is because those same people have lifted you to a higher perch than you were just three hours earlier.
I won’t spend much time explaining how much better this year’s Rams team is to the one that curb-stomped the Seahawks last season, or how much talent the Seahawks have lost compared to the team that lost that day. I do think it is worth jogging your memory about how that Rams team won. Jared Goff had just 120 yards passing. Todd Gurley had 152 yards rushing, 28 yards receiving, 4 touchdowns, and sat out the fourth quarter. The Seahawks offense had fewer total yards (149) than Gurley had on the ground. Russell Wilson was sacked seven times, and was the team’s leading rusher with 39 yards.
Let’s bring it forward to this season. The Rams offense has been on a record-shattering pace in terms of yards per play, especially through the air where they were averaging over 10 yards per attempt. That is a first down every time they drop back to pass. They had scored 38 points and piled up 556 yards of offense last week against an incredibly talented Vikings defense that was the best in the NFL last season. They scored 35 points and had 521 yards of offense the week before against the Chargers. They scored 34 points against Arizona and 33 points against the Raiders in a season-opener where they were still shaking off the rust. Their offensive line has been ranked best in the NFL by a variety of metrics.
They were far and away the favorite to win the Super Bowl before Sunday by every advanced analytic and Vegas oddsmaker. Profootballfocus had them as easily the most talented roster in the NFL with a 93.7 grade (anything above 90 is rarified air). Seattle entered this game with a 69.0 grade, good for 27th out of 32 teams. They lost their best defensive player last week in Earl Thomas. They lost their second-best linebacker in Mychal Kendricks. They are still without K.J. Wright. They lost their promising rookie tight end in Will Dissly. Their best receiver, Doug Baldwin, is dragging around two damaged knees.
I picked to win this game 20-17 on our podcasts this week, but only after prefacing the pick by saying that my gut was that this was going to be a 37-7 blowout. We were David. They were Goliath. And we very nearly knocked them on their asses. Seattle rewrote the story of their season this Sunday.
It was once known that teams that faced the Seahawks were highly likely to lose the next week because, the thinking went, that Seattle so physically punished their opponent that they were not able to recover for at least a week. You better believe the Rams defense is waking up sore this morning after the beatdown the Seahawks offensive line delivered. Think about that.
The Seahawks offensive line punished a Rams defensive line that featured Aaron Donald, Michael Brockers, and Ndamukong Suh. This is real life. It happened. We are finally seeing a melding of the physical mentality Pete Carroll talks about as the circle of toughness that starts with the running game.
Seattle has had three consecutive 100-yard rushers for the first time since Marshawn Lynch did it four straight games to end the 2012 season.
Chris Carson was an absolute badass. He averaged 6.1 yards per carry, and the yards after contact numbers have to be insane. He bulled his way through Rams defenders up the middle and around the edges. Mike Davis was the perfect counterpunch, darting inside and out for 5.7 yards per attempt. They helped the Seahawks convert 7-12 third down attempts, including four on the ground. Those were the most rushing conversions since the Indianapolis game last year. Before that, they had not done it since 2015 against the Vikings.
They also had another rushing touchdown in the red zone on a play where D.J. Fluker put Suh on his back. Seattle was a perfect 2-2 in the red zone, and now lead the entire NFL in red zone efficiency, scoring touchdowns on 80% of the red zone possessions.
Russell Wilson was great, throwing three touchdowns and no interceptions and averaging 9.4 yards per throw. He was sacked just twice and both appeared to be on the offensive line, as opposed to the quarterback holding onto the ball too long.
What was most encouraging about this game was how repeatable it seemed to be. Seattle is getting better and better at the running game. The blocking has improved as the coaches finally gave the team a chance to dig in. It would not be hard for me to get aggravated thinking back to the first two weeks of the season when the coaching staff inexplicably were passing 60% of the time and giving rushing reps to anyone not named Chris Carson. Instead, I am heartened by the trend we are seeing in both how the Seahawks are approaching their craft and who they are leaning on.
Keep in mind that Fluker was not available the first two weeks of the season. His addition to that line, and the chance for J.R. Sweezy to take over the other guard spot, has been a massive difference figuratively and literally. Germain Ifedi has steadied. Wilson is not having to run for his life, and running backs are not having to avoid defenders three yards deep in the backfield. Dare I say it, but this offensive line is becoming a strength of this team. God help me.
That is part of what made it so disappointing to see the game come down to two big mistakes by Ifedi and Fluker. A false start for Ifedi, and then a holding call on Fluker, moved the Seahawks out of field goal range. A team that had played so well for so long against such a potent opponent could not afford those miscues. It is impossible to say with certainty whether Seattle would have won had those penalties not happened, but that is my belief.
Much of the talk will be about how bad the Seahawks defense played. All I really have to say about that is:
The Seahawks defense is among the least talented in football.
They are playing over their heads because of the coaching, not in spite of it
The Rams offense is going to make everyone look foolish this season
Seattle held the Rams to their (tied for) lowest point total of the season
The Seahawks defense created a red zone turnover after a blocked punt
The Seahawks defense forced a field goal when the Rams had a 3rd and goal from the 1-yard line
Seattle knocked the Rams out of field goal range before the half
Two Rams receivers got knocked out the game due to big and legal hits from Seattle
Seattle stuffed Gurley with the game on the line on 3rd and 1 late
They held the Rams to 3-9 on third downs
The other story line will be how Carroll made egregious mental errors. I will let others argue both sides of that debate. I have known who Carroll was for years. I think we all should know by now. He is a remarkable football coach with a clear philosophy that has translated to some of the best football we have ever seen in Seattle and a impressive week-to-week consistency in terms of effort from his players. He has shown great ability to make adjustments at halftime. He is also a horrible game manager who gets in the way of his players and coaches. I still remember him calling a quarterback sneak at the goalline with Matt Hasselbeck before halftime with no timeouts left, which did not work and the Seahawks left with zero points on the possession. That was the moment where I knew Carroll was going to cost the team some games with poor decisions.
He also coached a team with far inferior talent to stand toe-to-toe with the best team in football and nearly win. I am not going to sweat something that is not going to change. Carroll will be Carroll with in-game decisions (and I will almost certainly complain about them in the future), but this was not the game to focus there. I am far more impressed with the way he got his team to play than I am angry with the poor decisions he may have made.
Seattle legitimately looked like a playoff team in this game. They made the road far more difficult by essentially throwing away the first two games of the season, but this is a team I can look forward to watching each week. The offense will pound you on the ground and strike with explosive plays through the air. David Moore will be given a chance to grow into an impact player. Tyler Lockett will continue to earn his new contract. Maybe even 325-pound George Fant will catch a pass. The defense will give up yards and points, but they will play hard and hit hard and create turnovers. My expectations have been raised, and I like the view.