The Morning After: Seahawks Look Unworthy in 33-30 Defeat
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Seattle could not have authored a more encouraging season opening victory. They addressed question-after-question and had splashy performances from almost every individual that mattered, and a few that nobody had reason to expect were going to contribute significantly this season. They were the football equivalent of a tailored suit, with a crisp shirt buttoned neatly, tie cinched to the top, and wingtips flashing class. They left their home opener looking disheveled and desultory. Facing what may be the worst defense they play all season, the Seahawks offense repeatedly failed to answer the call of their kid brother defense who needed just a little help to complete a victory.
There will be those who say this game was on the Seahawks defense, or at least equally on the defense. They gave up 532 yards and 33 points. They gave up a 60-yard run to Derrick Henry. The problem with that perspective is it lacks recognition of matchups.
The Titans offense is stacked with playmakers. Titans fans and media will tell you this is the most talented Titans offense in the history of the franchise, including the Oilers years. Even after an anemic opener, fans have every reason to expect that group will finish among the best in football, as they did a year ago.
Despite that, the Seahawks defense managed to hold them to 9 points in the first half, and 16 into the fourth quarter. They gifted the Seattle offense a touchdown with a strip sack at the 5-yard line, stopped them on downs with the lead late in the fourth, and stopped them on the first possession of overtime. The final numbers were ugly, but it felt like the result of a tag-team effort where the partner refused to tag in for half the fight.
The Seahawks offense went against a bad and injured Titans defense. The coaching staff insisted on running the ball repeatedly versus a group whose only credible talent was in stopping the run. They came out uninspired and arrogant. D.K. Metcalf was a child. He was all diva and no delight. Yes, he was injured late, but he was embarrassing himself and his team well before that with mental and physical errors.
Gone were the short and intermediate passes that brought so much hope a week ago. Gone were the tight ends, and the passes to running backs. It looked like there would be enough big plays to cover up a sputtering performance. There were not.
Even if Jason Myers had made his extra point, and the Seahawks had managed to hold off the Titans when they would have needed to go for a two-point conversion at the end of the fourth quarter to tie, it would have still felt like a loss.
The only way this team contends for more than the playoffs is for this offense to be dominant. They need to be a top five group, and likely a top three group, to carry enough weight for this team. Russell Wilson has to be a legitimate MVP candidate through the whole season. Metcalf has to be a matchup proof receiver who belongs in the conversation for best in football. Shane Waldron needs to be able to outflank his opposing defensive coaches.
All of those things felt possible against the Colts. All of them feel far less likely after being stymied by the Titans.
This is not the wild swing it may seem to be. The NFL season is a process of pulling the tarp off a car, bit-by-bit, to unveil whether you have a modern and tough Rivian, or one of those comically awful Jeep Gladiators. The first glimpse of the Seahawks looked sleek and tough. With more of the product in view this week, there is reason to be concerned the machine has design flaws.
It is the nature of the early season for the swings to feel more severe as there is such little information to go on. The challenge for Seattle is that we have such a large body of information from previous seasons about many of the people involved that when they show the flaws we have seen repeatedly in the past, they outweigh the moments of new hope.
Said another way, the team has more work to do to prove they are different than to reinforce that they are not.
Waldron ran the ball a lot on early downs in the Colts game. It was mildly concerning because it raised fears that Carroll was forcing his run emphasis on the new OC. The team was rather successful on those runs, so the concern was only mild. That the Seahawks stubbornly ran the ball on four of the first five 1st down attempts on Sunday against a defense better suited to stop the run than the pass was highly discouraging.
It felt forced. It felt philosophical. I do not personally care if the Seahawks are a successful rushing offense or passing offense. I care that they are successful. Surrendering a large advantage on early downs when an already overmatched secondary cannot commit extra numbers to pass defense seems like a flawed strategy. Sticking with that plan in the face of evidence it is not working is unwise.
The one time the Seahawks passed on first down in their first five chances, Tyler Lockett caught a 51-yard strike.
Early down rushing was not the whole problem. Take a look at the Seahawks possessions in the second half.
Possession #1 – 8 plays, 41 yards, Punt
1 first down run. 2 first down passes, and then a botched play where Wilson had to eat the ball for a short loss. After a pass to Lockett, the Seahawks faced a 3rd and 2, and ran into the teeth of the Titans defense for a loss. It was a telegraphed play that showed no creativity. This was on the OC.
Possession #2 – 3 plays, 66 yards, TD
First down pass, but Metcalf managed to get a hold and OPI call on the same play, setting the team back 10 yards. After two short passes, the Titans inexplicably chose not to have anyone guard Freddie Swain and thankfully Wilson saw and threw a catchable ball for a 68-yard touchdown. More lucky than good here.
Possession #3 – 3 plays, 8 yards, Punt
Jet sweep on first down, the only one of the game, for five yards. Short pass to Gerald Everett for 3 yards. Hail Mary jump ball thrown to Metcalf on 3rd down and 2. Blame on the OC for not creating a better option. Blame on the QB for not finding the hole in the defense. Blame on the receiver for continuing to struggle in jump ball situations despite massive physical advantages.
Possession #4 – 3 plays, 5 yards, Punt
This came with under 6 minutes to play and the defense had just held the Titans offense, in what felt like the stand needed to win the game. Seattle’s offense responded by a 2 yard run to Carson on first down, and incomplete pass to Lockett on second, and a pass to Metcalf that came up short on 3rd down. They lined up to go for it on fourth down, but were drawn offsides and punted. The offensive line takes a fair share of the blame here for not blocking better on first down and jumping the gun on fourth.
Possession #5 – 4 plays, 41 yards, End of Regulation
Wilson made a terrible decision to complete a short pass well inbounds on first down after holding the ball a decent amount. That wasted one of two timeouts and 12 of their 29 seconds. It effectively killed the drive. Wilson was incomplete on 2nd down and Brandon Shell was injured so the team had to use their last timeout. Drive over.
Possession #6 – 3 plays, -12 yards, Punt
This was after the defense stopped the Titans on their first possession. All the team needed was a field goal to win. Wilson throws incomplete deep to Lockett on 1st down. Incomplete deep to Metcalf on second, and nowhere close. Sack, almost safety, on third down. Game over.
Elite offenses do not go six straight possessions with only a single good play. And even that single good play was more about the blown coverage from Tennessee than the excellent play calling and execution by the Seahawks.
The criticism of the Seahawks offense, besides the emphasis on running, is that it is too reliant on the deep ball which is a low percentage play even for the best deep thrower in the game. Much of that critique has been pointed at the play callers. At some point, the burden of proof has to fall on the quarterback.
Is it more likely that three different coordinators are disinterested in intermediate and high percentage throws, or that their quarterback is unwilling or unable to make them?
For this particular game, I put more blame on Waldron than Wilson. I saw Wilson make a number of shorter throws. The game plan just seemed stubborn and flawed. That said, Wilson has a lot of control at the line of scrimmage, and has to take responsibility for getting the team into the right plays more often than he did on Sunday.
As much as I point to the offense for this loss, you cannot give up over 500 yards on defense without guilt. The Seahawks pass rush was very disappointing. Facing a Titans offensive line that struggles in pass protection and was dealing with a series of injuries, Seattle could not get pressure on Ryan Tannehill much of the day.
They did end with 3 sacks and 8 QB hits, but Tannehill enjoyed a clean pocket most of the day. Give credit to him. He was excellent the entire game. Even though he finished without a touchdown pass, I thought he outplayed Wilson. His receivers dropped numerous on-target passes, and he was crisp with his reads and throws.
Julio Jones and AJ Brown were the mismatches we thought they were on Tre Flowers and DJ Reed. Despite the 60-yard touchdown run, I thought the run defense was mostly excellent. It was really the pass rush that underperformed.
The defensive rotations seemed odd as well. Alton Robinson makes a game-changing strip sack, but barely seemed to get on the field the rest of the game. Carlos Dunlap was rotating off all game. The Titans appeared to use no huddle to keep the Seahawks from rotating their linemen as much as they like. Benson Mayowa felt like he got a ton of snaps and was a nonfactor. Rasheem Green did not follow up his great first week with many notable plays this week. Darrell Taylor was absent.
A growing concern is that Jamal Adams has not made his presence felt through two weeks. This is a guy who you are building the defense around, and he has mostly been a ghost for two games. I am expecting more impact from him.
Stepping back to look at the entire team performance, the outcome should do little to keep the team from fighting for a playoff spot. If your dreams are more than that, this game should feel like a cold shower. This is not a game that a contender loses. This is not the way a sustainably elite offense plays. This is not the way an MVP leads his team.
They now travel to an 0-2 Minnesota team that has a roughly equivalent explosive offense to the Titans and a more dangerous, albeit underperforming, defense. The odds are against Seattle in that one after being clearly in their favor here. It is fair to look around the NFC and not be overly impressed by any team. There is a limit to how much comfort one should take from the failure of others. Seattle needs to prove their formula for winning can overcome far greater opponents and scenarios than they faced yesterday. They lost a game they very clearly should have won. They still need to win games when their advantage is far less or nonexistent. The road will get tougher. The question that remains for the Seahawks is whether they have the car to drive it.