After a quick scan of Twitter, people are reacting one of two ways tonight. And neither quite hits the right note for me.
The sky isn’t falling after back-to-back defeats and a 3-3 record. That much is true. But neither is this a defeat to ignore and put down to raw bad luck. The Seahawks can bounce back — but there are issues that need to be addressed if this team is to have any chance of returning to the playoffs.
There’s a tendency at times to try too hard not to overreact. Let’s not paper over the cracks here, even though the NFC West certainly wasn’t lost today.
This was an ugly, avoidable defeat against a bad 1-4 team slumping towards another top ten pick. The game was played in a mostly empty stadium. The Rams, built around their pass rush, had only one sack in their previous five games.
Seattle shouldn’t have needed a second half rally to make this a close game. The big problem with the ‘it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish’ mantra is it’s open to interpretation. Seattle didn’t ‘finish’ the game particularly well and had a chance to win. Yet when you spell a team a 15-point first-half head start — how can you pin the entire defeat on a trick-play fake punt at the end?
The Seahawks looked like a sloppy and somewhat broken team in the first half. The offense jumped into life after half time thanks to the playmaking qualities of Russell Wilson. It’s tempting to look at Wilson’s virtuoso performance and take solace. He was sensational. He was also a rare bright spot, alongside the efforts of Doug Baldwin and Cooper Helfet.
The defense is struggling. Yes, injuries hurt. And yet there’s Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, K.J. Wright, Michael Bennett, Brandon Mebane and Cliff Avril. Healthy starters who would feature for nearly every team in the league. Austin Davis dinked and dunked his way to a winning performance. He was barely troubled, barely pressured. And while Wilson did his Atlanta-playoffs act on offense, the defense never looked threatening.
Did they do their job at the end, to give the team one last opportunity to win the game before the fake punt? Kind of. A missed sack by Malcolm Smith possibly set up the fake given it was a short yardage play instead of fourth-and-Montana. In the previous drive the defense coughed up an 80-yard romp for a touchdown.
Seattle spent three years under Pete Carroll trying to find a consistent pass rush that didn’t rely on Chris Clemons. They got there last year. This season? Back to the drawing board. Clemons is gone and the Avril and Bennett combo isn’t getting it done. They need help from the interior — but without Clinton McDonald’s impact inside they aren’t getting any. Not pressing elusive quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers and Tony Romo is one thing. Peyton Manning is too quick-minded to trouble. But Kirk Cousins and Austin Davis had two easy games against this defense.
If you want to question why the Seahawks aren’t forcing turnovers — here’s your problem. If you aren’t unsettling an opposing quarterback, they’re not going to make mistakes. Last week San Francisco dominated the St. Louis offensive line and Davis struggled to complete a pass in the second half. Eventually he threw a pick-six. Here he had the most comfortable game of his short career.
Despite all the spluttering on defense, it was special teams that had the biggest contributing factor on the defeat. It started with bad tackling on Benny Cunningham’s big return that eventually led to St. Louis’ opening touchdown. What followed was simply astonishing — and somewhat embarrassing.
How can you fail to track the football on a punt, get fooled by a redundant returner and allow a huge touchdown return? When does this ever happen? Everyone on the coverage unit ran to Tavon Austin, who flopped to the floor grinning like a Cheshire cat. On the other side of the field Steadman Bailey sauntered, untouched, almost the length of the field for a touchdown.
If Cunningham’s run was the starter, Bailey’s touchdown was a pretty filling main course. There was still enough room for a big creamy desert.
If you’re like me, you didn’t celebrate Richard Sherman’s crucial third down stop at the end of the game. You were telling yourself “let’s see the punt first.” Having already fooled Seattle once in this game and in a previous meeting two years ago — surely it wouldn’t happen again? Sure enough there it was. A fake punt. The type of fake a 1-4 team can attempt. What is there to lose? Punting the ball to Wilson was suicide given his second half form. A fake made total sense.
Let’s give the Rams credit for a brilliant play design, executed perfectly. It was hardly unplayable though. A short pass into the flat behind the line of scrimmage by the punter. Mugged again by Jeff Fisher. The play to win the game.
At 3-3 the Seahawks are not out of the NFC West race. Far from it. But they’re trending one way at the moment. Again, this is not a good Rams team. When they played a good team last week (Dallas) it was pretty ugly, even at home. The injuries are stacking up and questions remain over the lingering impact of Percy Harvin’s presence and eventual trade. They’re on the road to inconsistent Carolina next week. 3-4 is as realistic as 4-3. Flip a coin.
Contrary to popular belief, Seattle didn’t win a Super Bowl last year because they ran Marshawn Lynch into the ground and didn’t use a lot of short passes. They won a Super Bowl playing fundamentally good football in all three phases. Two out of the three phases played very poorly today. Two out of three phases played poorly last week. Are the Seahawks capable right now of playing well across the board? And can they find an edge on defense, plus some pass rush?
The next two or three weeks are going to be very interesting.
They need to show they can play through adversity. The 49ers dealt with story-lines about their Head Coach and a spate of injuries by winning three in a row. Seattle heads to Carolina next week trying to avoid losing three in a row.