The Morning After: Seahawks defense outplays NFL’s best, lights NFC West division title cigars
Reader Rating30 Votes
The next time the Seattle Seahawks take the field, it will be 2021. All the ill feelings of 2020 will fade. Let me introduce you to the Seahawks of the new year. They feature a stout defense with playmakers at every level. Their secondary is among the best in the league with quality at every cornerback and safety position. The linebackers have a mix of veteran excellence and a rising rookie. The defensive line is relentless and helps fuel the league’s most productive pass rush. Their best player is a safety who covers, hits, defends the run, and rushes the passer. He does everything. The other safety is a Pro Bowl starter playing his best football. The offense is led by powerful a offensive line and a balanced attack that can grind out yards and is one of the league’s best in both 3rd down and red zone conversions. They have the best special teams in football, with two elite kickers and excellent coverage teams. Most importantly, they are champions of the toughest division in the NFL.
Seattle entered a game this weekend against a team that has regularly outcoached and outplayed them, and featured the league’s best defense. Both teams were relatively healthy. The Rams were wide awake and focused after the smelling salts of a humiliating loss to the New York Jets a week ago had been administered. A division title was on the line. No fans. No odd weather. Just two teams facing each other to see who was best. As the great Richard Sherman once said, this was not a match-up. It was a mismatch.
Thanks to a disciplined, physical, spirited, and consistent defensive performance, the vaunted Sean McVay offense never found the end zone. The last time his offense did not score a touchdown was last November against Baltimore. It has only been done three times—now four—since McVay was hired in 2017. His teams had been held to 10 points or less five times before this, and interestingly, Pete Carroll is now responsible for two of the six times it has happened.
Since that very first game where Carroll’s Seahawks beat McVay’s Rams 16-10, the Rams had won five of six contests and averaged 31.8 points. Setting aside that first game, their lowest point total against Seattle heading into this season had been 28 points. Seattle has now held them to 23 and 9 points this season.
This Rams offense piled up 413 yards and 27 points against the Bucs, 463 yards and 38 points against the Cardinals, 30 points and 429 yards against the Washington Football Team, 37 points and 449 yards against the Eagles, 32 points and 478 yards against the Bills, as well as 471 yards against the Dolphins. They were the 7th ranked offense in football entering this game, per Football Outsiders.
Do not be the person who both says McVay is great and this offense is powerful, and also says Jared Goff sucks so playing well against him doesn’t prove anything. Do not be the person who eviscerates Carroll for being outcoached by McVay and then belittles this accomplishment. Those are very annoying people.
The Seahawks defense has absolutely dominated the Rams for six of the eight quarters they have played this season. One of my consistent refrains to all the McVay lovers on Seahawks Twitter is that great coaches are determined by sustained success and Super Bowl victories. He was embarrassed by Bill Belichick when he had the most talented roster in football, and his offense has not been a top five unit since.
It took a few seasons, but Carroll appears to have a plan for how to contain McVay’s scheme. K.J. Wright even inferred that in his postgame comments when saying that the Rams used to “boot(leg) us to death.”
Nothing about this defensive performance seemed fluky or unsustainable. Jamal Adams has taken his place as the Mjölnir of this Seahawks defense. He is Thor’s spinning hammer, and his lightning bolts can be felt all over the field. He was fantastic in this game without a sack, and only a few blitzes.
The biggest difference in this defense from the early season excrement and the recent excellence is the play of Adams and D.J. Reed. Other things have changed as well, but much of the instability early in the year can be traced back to Ken Norton Jr. having no idea how to utilize Adams and abysmal cornerback play.
Adams was plutonium: raw, unrefined, and dangerous to all who came in contact with him. He is now a tactical nuke, both precise and limiting in collateral damage.
His swagger is reminiscent of the LOB era. People notice it in his postgame press conferences with his boastful statements and aggressive banter with the media, but it also shows up on the football field in a completely unbounded expectation that he will make every play in every moment. His motor is off the charts. There was not better example of that then his multiple plays during the goal line stand against the Rams that preserved the Seahawks seven point lead.
This was, however, far from a one-man show. There was not a single Seahawks defender who clearly had a bad game. Shaquill Griffin missed a tackle or two, but was mostly excellent in coverage. One of the most encouraging performances was by Benson Mayowa.
I mentioned last week that he looked more explosive and energetic than at any time this season against Washington despite having few stats to show for it. He was even better this week. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, he had eight quarterback pressures on 24 pass rushes. That was the most pressures by a Seahawks player in a game in the last three seasons. That was also the second-highest single game pressure rate by any player in the NFL this season.
Jordyn Brooks showed up again. He tied the team lead in tackles, and was a beast near the goal line. That has happened enough this year that we can probably assume that is part of who he is going to be as a player. I see a young guy who is getting stronger and more confident as the season progresses. I am not sure we know his ceiling yet.
Jarran Reed had two big sacks, and now has 6.5 on the season. Alton Robinson had another sack, the second in two weeks, and now has 4.0 on the season in under 193 pass rush snaps. By comparison, Frank Clark had 3.0 sacks as a rookie in 253 pass rush snaps. Clark had 10.0 sacks his second year.
In all, the Seahawks defensive line accounted for 27 of the team’s season-high 32 QB pressures, per Pro Football Focus. That is an excellent sign against one of the best pass-protecting offensive lines in the NFL. The Rams have allowed 3 sacks in a game just twice this season, both to the Seahawks.
Quandre Diggs was hitting everyone, everywhere. He is playing with so much more certainty.
Bobby and KJ were their normal reliably excellent selves.
Adams said after the game this was the best defense in football. That probably is not true, but they are among the top five in the second half of the season by almost any metric. This is a very good defense.
Are they good enough to be the centerpiece of a Super Bowl team? That we can even ask that question represents one of the most remarkable turnarounds of any Seahawks unit in any season.
I do not see elite quite yet. I do see a group that can make life difficult for any offense they play. What that means is the offense has to be good enough to outscore an opponent who will have a tough time scoring 25 points.
The Seahawks have scored 25+ points just twice in the last seven games (28 vs ARZ, 40 vs NYJ). They started slow in this game against a legitimately elite defense.
Russell Wilson was incredibly fortunate to have Darious Williams drop what might have been a pick-six on the first series. He also missed a wide open Jacob Hollister for a touchdown, and bizarrely ran into multiple sacks by dropping his head and dashing straight ahead into the arms of ecstatic Rams defenders.
But he steadied in the second half, and led two touchdown drives to win the game. His dagger throw to Hollister on third and five for the final score was vintage Wilson, something we have seen precious little of the last two months.
I still see a player who has lost confidence and is second-guessing himself. There was an early third down sack where Tyler Lockett was wide open at the sticks for a first and Wilson hesitated for some reason before being sacked. All of those scramble attempts were almost instant decisions after not seeing his primary read open, and often before his pocket had collapsed.
Even his longest gain, the 45 yard throw to David Moore, was a very questionable decision. He eschewed a certain first down with his legs (there was nobody within 15 yards of him) for a low probability throw to a well-covered player. It was amazing and wonderful that it worked out, but had the odds played out as they would most times (40+ yard pass plays are always under 50% chance of being completed, and even lower when covered), that would have been held up as a terrible choice by Wilson.
I was encouraged to see him make the right decision to keep the ball and run for the first touchdown. It was poetic that the deciding points were scored by Wilson choosing to run the ball on a pass play when it was his decision to force a pass across the field near the goal line in the first game that arguably cost his team a chance to win that one.
I was also encouraged to see him throw the ball to DK Metcalf, even if it was still not quite as much as I would like. Metcalf played tough and did his job well.
A big tip of the cap to Cedric Ogbuehi, who I ripped to shreds after his dreadful performance against the Eagles. He was very good for the second straight game against an elite defensive line. That gave Brandon Shell another week to heal and could mean they give Shell a final week against the 49ers.
The offensive line has mostly found its footing after a bad stretch. The Mike Iupati injury has taken a toll and Jordan Simmons has not been a reliable replacement. He was beaten badly a few times in this game. But they have been run blocking much better and the tackles have been very good. That should be enough to let this offense function.
As has been the case for the last few years, the fate of this team will be decided by the quality of play from Wilson. He has been far from great, but is showing signs of getting better. No quarterback will have faced a tougher stretch of defenses consecutively as Wilson is heading into the postseason. That should help him and the team when they get into playoff football, where nothing comes easy.
The team plays a final game in Arizona against the 49ers next week. They have a good chance to end the season with 12 wins.
Seattle now knows they can beat teams with elite defenses. They have done it in consecutive weeks. They know they can beat a Rams team with the best defense in football, and who may be their first playoff opponent. They are not the Maserati they were to start the season, and are more the semi truck that plows through obstacles. Wilson finding his confidence and precision is the key to lighting the rocket stowed in the trailer. One spark, and this team could have everything it needs to be special at just the right time.