I wanted to put this right on top: I called the pass interference against Deon Grant "incidental contact". Rewatching the tape, pass interference was the right call. It wasn't gross PI, but whenever you grab any part of a receiver's body thereby impeding their route, an open-eyed official will call it. There's a lot more to it than just that, and Grant's PI, upon further review, was a savvy move. I'll talk about that in a second.
- So, I make mistakes. Am I biased? Sure as shit I am, but I try to be as objective as possible when I do this. After realizing I screwed up the Grant penalty, I decided I should go back and figure out if I was similarly wrong about the officiating for the rest of the fourth quarter. My conclusion, though the officiating was within what might be called a tolerable level of fairness, was suspect. There were at least three uncalled holding penalties and one uncalled personal foul. I say "at least" regarding the holding penalties because given the nebulous nature of the hold infraction and the inconsistent enforcement of it, I decided to only track slam dunk, beyond dispute, holds. Here's each missed penalty, when they occurred and how flagrant they were.
- 6th play of the Rams first drive in the 4th quarter. The Hawks are in a 4-2 Nickel. Tapp is held is by Alex Barron who grabs two fistfuls of his jersey very close to his body. Kerney lands the sack, Rams punt, Barron is pretty slick with the hold and the penalty would have be declined, so this is a low level miss.
- Subsequent Hawks drive, 4th play. Claude Wroten grabs a hold of Rob Sims helmet, jerks him forward, in the process ripping the helmet from Sims' head, tosses it 15 yards behind himself, and then uses the momentum to put pressure on Hasselbeck. So flagrant the announcers point it out on replay - that's pretty bad.
- Second play, second Rams possesion. Hawks are, again, in a 4-2 Nickel. This time Kerney and Tapp are held. Kerney is victim of the classic "hands outside the shoulder pads" or what I like to call a bracket block, where the offensive lineman keeps his hands flat like a legit block, but uses them on opposing sides of the defender's body, bracketing or holding them. Hold, but it happens. Tapp, though, is severely held. First, Barron gets his hands to Tapp's face, then, when Tapp is able to shed that, Barron takes a hold of Tapp's jersey and actually pulls back so that a half a foot of Tapp's jersey is stretched away from his person.
- I also ripped into the coaching after the game, and that's a critique that only crystallized after studying the tape. Let's start first with the Hawks final relevant offensive drive. There is 5:07 on the game clock, the Rams have all three timeouts, and Seattle is starting with very good field position: their own 44. On the first play, Seattle exits the huddle with 2 WRs, an H-Back and backs in an I-back formation. It's a run first formation for Seattle. They would run the next 4 plays from this same formation. The Rams, anticipating run, put 8 in the box and 5 along the line. Morris runs for three, and it's a wonder that he does. Next play, the Rams stack 6 on the line and 8 in the box, but Seattle calls play action, Beck finds Burly one on one downfield, Burly converts the first, nets 20 yards, and forces a superfluous penalty. This is the one adept play call of the drive. On the next play the Rams back off a little, putting 8 in the box, but only 4 on the line. Morris runs into the pile for no gain. Seattle breaks huddle, sets in the exact same formation, and the Rams, again, return to selling out run: 8 in box, 6 on the line. Morris is dropped for a loss of 2. If I could show you the play, you'd see no rusher in the world could have made a damn thing out of this rush. Seattle is now in a desperation down, 3rd and 12, and have only burned 1:33 of play clock. Seattle sets 3 wide, with 1 back and an H-back. The Rams are forced to defend the pass, put only 6 in the box, but 5 on the line. Before the snap, Ron Bartell, who's a big and sound tackling corner, looks 3 times into the backfield. At the snap he immediately cuts into the backfield and stops Morris after a single yard. No one, no one, no. one. is ever in doubt of Holmgren's play call. When the Hawks drive finally stalls, the Rams are left with 2:44, 2 timeouts, and only 58 yards to their endzone. The rushes neither killed the clock, nor helped Josh Brown convert a crucial field goal. The play calling was predictable, bland; stunk of distrust in one's offense and nearly cost the Hawks the game. Had Seattle passed the ball three times, each incomplete, and then punted, they would have been in a considerably better position. The Rams would have had worse field position and the Hawks a better chance of putting together a drive if the Rams scored.
- John Marshall decided to top Mike Holmgren. On the Rams first two plays, both from a 4-2 nickel, he called deep zone coverages. On each, both Jennings and Trufant dropped 15-20 yards downfield, and on each, the first to the right and the second to the left, Gus Frerotte simply threw the ball to the expanse between the corner and nickel corner. Boom, 10 yards. Bang, 9 yards. The Rams are now at the Seattle 39 with a full 2:15 left on the play clock. That's when we get either a complete eff up by the front seven, or something that could politely be called the Keystone Cop blitz package. Seattle has only two men on the line, and the other four within the box are milling about like they don't know where to set up. At the snap, despite the confusion, Seattle blitzes 6. The pass rush doesn't get unblocked within 3 yards of Bulger before he's already thrown the ball. Bruce is streaking up the seam, and that's when Grant has the presence of mind to interfere. 24 yards is a tough pill to swallow, but it's small beer considering how open Bruce was about to get against a badly disorganized Hawks secondary. I don't know if Seattle wasn't ready for the quicksnap, or if Tatupu's absence left them daffy, or if Marshall was just slow on the play call, but I do know it nearly cost them the game.
- We end with some redemption for two of the Hawks most maligned players: Jordan Babineaux and Brian Russell. Yep, them.
8th play, deciding drive. The Rams run another X pattern with their two right receivers. Babs, playing in a short zone, slips the pick and is on Drew Bennett immediately. Two yards, but the score is prevented. Excellent, heads-up play by Babs.
9th play, now from the 2. Rams rush Steven Jackson, Russell comes in for the fill, bounces a bit off to the side, but stalls Jackson's progress. Leroy Hill grasps Jackson's legs and the two combine for the stop. Each play was essential to the Hawks winning. Kudos, guys.