St. Louis came agonisingly close to ending Seattle’s unbeaten home record today. It was a gritty, hard fought rivalry game – the type you’re going to have to get used to in the new NFC West. A 20-13 win is only worth as much as a 42-13 win, but there were some familiar issues that cropped up this afternoon.
First and foremost the pass rush simply wasn’t good enough today and it’s becoming a worrying trend. Seattle had zero sacks against a team that had given up 34 going into the final week of the season. Even putting Bruce Irvin on the field for early downs had little impact. When the Seahawks attack with four rushers, they struggle to create pressure. Considering rushing with four is at the heart of the teams defensive philosophy, it’s a problem. Maybe things change in the playoffs? We can but hope. As things stand the pass rush has to be the teams greatest concern going into 2013.
Time and time again Sam Bradford had an age to throw the ball. The Rams do not possess a great offensive line. Jeff Fisher has two first round picks in the 2013 draft and it wouldn’t be a total shocker if both were spent on shoring up Bradford’s pass protection. Miami, Chicago, Arizona, Buffalo, St. Louis. Five opponents since the bye week, five opponents with mediocre or average offensive lines. Seattle has not taken advantage on any occasion.
Chris Clemons had a couple of pressures as usual today but apart from that only an Earl Thomas-blitz gave Bradford anything to think about. If the Seahawks are going to go deep into the post-season, they need more than that. Perhaps they dialled things back a little, not wanting to give anything away for next week? It’s a possibility. But one thing is sure – this team cannot rush four in base. Whether it’s Robert Griffin III or Tony Romo next week, they’re going to need to get creative. And that probably means coming up with some blitz packages.
The greatest need on the team is – still – finding interior pass rush. How did you know we were going to discuss this today? It’s non-existent at the moment. This has to be addressed. Spend big on Henry Melton if you get a chance. Consider adding Randy Starks at a slightly cheaper cost. Trade up for Sheldon Richardson. Work that late round magic again. Whatever. A solution must be found because it’s holding this team back. I suspect the teams front office doesn’t need anyone to highlight this issue. We see it every week.
Seattle relies too much on Chris Clemons. It’s been that way since he joined the team in 2010. Even Bruce Irvin – drafted to help out – has one sack in six games since the bye week. It’s no coincidence that Ray Edwards had a work-out recently. Both players need interior help. And right now the Seahawks are using a 330lbs nose tackle at the three technique. Alan Branch deserves to stay with this team when he hits free agency. But he offers no pass rush. And for that reason, he’d be better served as a rotational cog and backup for Red Bryant rather than a starter at a position designed to collapse the pocket and aid the LEO.
These are topics for another day. But that day will come unless the Seahawks suddenly turn it on in the playoffs. You don’t expect great pressure every week. But so far the only bad offensive line Seattle has abused was Green Bay’s for one half. And there’s too much talent in the secondary to allow this to be an issue again in 2013.
A lot of people are going to want to talk about the offensive line. St. Louis played a great game today. Jeff Fisher and his staff constructed a scheme that consistently confused Seattle’s line. Russell Okung had his worst game for a while. Breno Giacomini took a step back after several weeks of good play. Most of all J.R. Sweezy showed the kind of growing pains we saw against the Cardinals in week one.
It’s also worth remembering the likes of Julius Peppers, Mario Williams, Aldon Smith, Cameron Wake and others who’ve been shut out in recent weeks. This was a bad day at the office. The second half adjustments slowed some of the schemes St. Louis were using. I’m tempted to chalk this one down to experience and good scheming by the Rams. Although John Moffitt really needs to be active next week just in case we see similar struggles from Sweezy again.
Some other issues? Penalties returned with vengeance. One chalked off an early touchdown for Zach Miller, another put paid to a big play for Doug Baldwin. On both occasions, Anthony McCoy was the culprit. There were some sloppy penalties against the offensive lineman, Bruce Irvin had a silly ‘roughing the passer’ call.
Russell Wilson on the whole was exemplary and equalled Peyton Manning’s rookie passing record for touchdowns. In a way, equalling the record and having your name placed alongside Manning seems just as good as breaking the tally. Having said that, in the first half he was guilty on a couple of occasions of trying to do too much. It’s hard to be too critical given the pressure he was under, but there were at least a couple of sacks before half time that were avoidable. Barring a dramatic performance from Robert Griffin III tonight, I think it’s hard to keep the offensive rookie of the year award away from Wilson. How many third round rookie quarterbacks do what he’s done this year?
Nobody appeared to get injured which was a big positive. Golden Tate had another terrific performance. Richard Sherman finished the regular season with eight interceptions, making a mockery of the decision to put Patrick Peterson into the Pro-Bowl ahead of him. Seattle’s 11-5 record is the third best in franchise history. Wilson is the first rookie quarterback to go 8-0 at home. The Seahawks dominated every game they played at Century Link apart from one that we won’t mention here today.
The Rams have come a long way since the New England beat-down I had to endure in London earlier this season. On that night it was like watching the Rams we’ve come to know – lacking in talent and capable of being blown away. This is a completely different beast a few weeks on. And with four first round picks to spend in the next two drafts, the Rams will be a threat in the NFC West with Jeff Fisher running the show. Seahawks fans should be pleased with a hard fought win today. It’s the only type of win you’re going to get against the Rams for the next few years.
2013 draft order
This hasn’t been confirmed, but I understand this is how the top-20 will look now that the regular season is complete:
#1 Kansas City
#9 New York Jets
#11 San Diego
#13 Tampa Bay
#15 New Orleans
#16 St. Louis
#18 St. Louis (via Washington) or Dallas
#19 New York Giants