The Morning After: Seahawks Unleash Shock and Ahhh Versus Powerhouse Rams
My teenage son turned to me during the Seahawks game against the Rams and said, “I know this isn’t the best Seahawks team I’ve watched, but they are one of the most fun to watch.” The Seahawks added another entertaining loss to their resume in what has been a season befitting a teenager, with confounding elements of wonder and frustration. Limping into this game missing two of their best offensive players and licking their wounds from a pivotal home loss, the Seahawks bullied a motivated Rams team coming off their first loss of the season to the tune of 273 yards rushing. They had a chance to win a game that nobody gave them a shot to win, as the largest underdog in the Russell Wilson era. I wake up this morning frustrated and hopeful, but mostly hopeful.
The signs were there all week that the Seahawks would be missing Chris Carson and D.J. Fluker. When final word came down that they would be inactive for this game, I was braced for the worst. This could be a beatdown that was effectively over after a single quarter. The Rams offense destroys everything in their path. It seemed unlikely the Seahawks offense would be able to keep up. Not only were they missing those key players, but the Rams had faced Seattle before and Wade Phillips, their defensive coordinator, would surely have a better game plan to stop the run game. He would certainly have to find some helpful concepts in the Chargers film where the Seahawks offense hibernated for most of the game when Carson left.
A slow-starting Seahawks offense against an always on Rams offense would spell doom. But the Seahawks had other plans. From the very first snap, where they gained 9 yards on a Mike Davis run, the Seahawks were ready for battle. Credit youngster Jordan Simmons for filling in for Fluker and playing his first game. The 335-pounder held up well against one of the most intimidating defensive lines in the NFL. What became clear during this game was that defensive line is also full of punks. Aaron Donald, in particular, is one of the games least-known assholes. When you make Ndamukong Suh look like a good sport in comparison, you know you are a jackass.
Kudos to Germain Ifedi for both getting under the skin of the opponent and not retaliating when provoked. He received two penalties that were both very questionable. In general, he played exactly the way I would want my mauling right tackle to play, with a nasty edge that stays on the right side of competitiveness and cheap play.
Seattle scored on their opening drive. Then they scored on their second drive. Thanks in large part to rookie running back Rashaad Penny, they piled up over 100 yards rushing in the first quarter. That’s badass. Penny had two explosive rushing plays on that second drive, but it was his 24-yard run on the opening drive of the third quarter that caught my attention. Even slightly above average running backs in the NFL are capable of making a single defender miss, either by running around or through him. Penny has struggled mightily in that regard thus far. On this play, a Rams defender had him squared up right at the line of scrimmage. Penny faced him and then showed off the quick feet and burst we have desperately been looking for since he came to the northwest. He feinted to the left and the defender bit hard. Penny left the wrong-footed opponent in his dust on his way around the right edge.
For all the folks saying Penny just needed an opportunity to show his talent, I say that every single carry is an opportunity, and Penny has been frittering those away all season. In this game, though, he earned more carries. Gains simply given are the enemy of greatness. Penny showed enough in this game, his first 100-yard performance and first touchdown, that he should be challenging Davis on the depth chart. In typical nonsensical fashion, the Seahawks coaches left Penny on the sideline for almost the entire first half after he broke out on the second series of the game. Not only had he earned more carries, but this staff has been insisting he needed more chances, and yet they went away from him when he played well. So weird.
While the offense was impressing, the defense was getting their helmets handed to them by the potent Rams offense. For the second straight game, they were unable to create a turnover and were giving up chunks of yards at a time. Analytics Twitter is going to love this, but the key solvable problem is the Seahawks run defense. Those who study the numbers will tell you that run defense is among the least important parts of the game.
What I see is a defense that has trouble stopping either the pass or the run, and I do not expect the pass defense to improve much. Giving up 8 or 9 yards per carry on the ground makes it even less likely the secondary can do their jobs. When Seattle finally shifted to a 46 Bear front, the Rams stopped being able to run as effectively and the offense slowed. Simply put, stopping something is better than stopping nothing. Seattle has to find a way to shore up their rush defense if they want to salvage anything interesting the rest of the season.
The lack of spine on defense made Pete Carroll’s decision to go for an onsides kick early in the fourth quarter logical. He was trying to steal an extra possession somewhere since he could not create a takeaway. It did not work out, but the thought process was sound. Ironically, the defense did a nice job on that series, holding the Rams to a field goal. That’s when the game really turned.
On 3rd and 3, the Seahawks inexplicably went with an empty backfield, giving the Rams no reason to defend a run game that had dominated them all day. They did exactly what they do well, and collapsed the pocket, making it difficult for Wilson to step up. That allowed Dante Fowler Jr. to reach out and knock the ball out of Wilson’s hands for a crucial strip sack that the Rams recovered deep in Seattle territory. A quick touchdown essentially ended the game.
Credit the Seahawks for scoring and then holding the Rams to make things interesting until the end. The outcome might have been different if the offense had scored at the end of the first half when they got conservative over midfield. It might have been different if they were better than 2-9 on third down. It might have been different if Wilson had ran a play instead of spiking the ball on first down at the Rams 35-yard line on the final drive. Instead, the Seahawks end up with another loss.
The most likely outcome to this season what most of us expected going in, a middling win total of between seven and nine victories. That said, I find myself oddly expecting good things. The offense had one very costly hiccup against the Chargers, but has otherwise been extremely effective since week three. I still find myself doubting the defense. Despite holding the Chargers without a point in the second half last week, my mind can’t let go of the massive chunk plays they gave up in the first half or the never-ending stream of successful plays by the Rams. They lack the playmakers capable of stemming the tide. It is a short week, with the Seahawks getting the Packers in Seattle this Thursday. That is a fairly sizable advantage. This team is out of mulligans. They must win that game. Five of their remaining seven games are at home. They can win all of them. Will they? Tell me what a hormonal teenager is going to do next, and I’ll let you know.