With one regular season game remaining, the Seahawks are getting the attention from the national chatterboxes that many fans have craved. The final regular season matchup brings the Rams to CLink. The Rams for their part, represent yet another rock 'em sock 'em NFC West defense. Football Outsiders ranks the St. Louis defense 11th in weighted DVOA, 8th against the pass and 10th against the run. A Rams win--an upset, if not a monumental one--would represent one of the very few times a team that goes undefeated in its division would miss the playoffs. Win or lose (or tie, I suppose), the Rams are sitting on a bundle of draft picks to upgrade a roster with many of its building blocks already in place.
1. The critical question: what is Seattle's "real" baseline performance? Seattle is on an incredible run. This isn't the NBA where crappy teams can string together five or six quality games in late January. NFL teams that aren't really that good don't play at the level we have seen in the past few weeks. Still, we can't realistically expect the Seahawks to continue hanging 40-something on every opponent. Nobody performs at peak forever, even if they really are that good.
So naturally the question arises, what's Seattle's new baseline? What can we realistically expect? That's virtually impossible to say with any precision but I think it is fair to say that if this team is capable of going where we think it can we should see a soft landing from the peak rather than a crash landing. First, this Rams defense is quite good. So there's that. Perhaps more importantly, Seattle has had some incredibly fortunate bounces over the past few weeks that led to a ton of "add on" points. The early part of the season saw little turnover luck one way or the other, but consider the following plays in the past three games:
- SF: Sherman's scoop and score of Red Bryant's blocked kick, Baldwin's field position flipping bounce-off-the-wet-jersey catch, McCoy's TD that could have been flagged for delay of game;
- BUF (away): Fitzpatrick misses a wide open bomb to C.J. Spiller, Earl Thomas' incredible INT TD return that could have (incorrectly) been ruled a trap initially;
- AZ: K.J. Wright's INT following Fitzgerald's bobble, Malcolm Smith's punt muff TD recovery.
To be perfectly clear, if you took all of those plays away the game outcomes would stay the same. But, each was a scoring play or field position flipping play. Had Seattle merely scored in the high 20s over the past few weeks the only thing missing would be some of the national accolades. I'm just spitballing it, but an offense that can consistently put up 20+ points on good defenses seems like a reasonable baseline.
2. Seattle should assign someone to Pete Carroll on the sidelines. Preferably to fan and mist him, lest his "hormones" cause him to once again gamble away field position against this thoroughly mediocre offensive team. That road loss sticks in my craw the worst of any loss this season because the coaching staff really stunk up the joint when all they had to be was mediocre to get an early season road win. The Rams typically have to work really hard for their points. Cold Hard Football Facts (hat tip to Hawkblogger's podcast with Softy) rates the Rams 27th on their "scoreability index. FO's drive stats kinda tell the same story. You have to make the Rams convert drives.
3. I'm looking forward to seeing Janoris Jenkins. Like San Francisco, St. Louis has accumulated enough high early draft picks that some of them are starting to blossom. Chris Long and Russell Okung should be a whale of a matchup, especially that Long now has a little better surrounding talent. But the guy I really want to see is Jenkins. I know he's a ball hawk but I am hearing that he is stout in coverage, he tackles, he's the goods. Fisher and Carroll certainly do some fundamentally similar things with their defensive backs.
4. I'm ambivalent about winning the division crown. Seattle isn't in any position to be looking ahead to any team other than St. Louis. To be frank, I think Seattle may be better off long-term playing in the first round even if they beat the Rams. This team is still learning how to win and to be consistent. Playing your best football in December and January is more valuable than rest for this team at this stage of its growth. If we take the view that the "window" for this core group of players will (theoretically) stay open a few seasons and then add in Seattle's relatively good overall health this season, I'd offer that beating the Rams is the most important thing Seattle can accomplish Sunday. It is far more important anything San Francisco or Green Bay does.