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How to Lose Smiling; Or Seven Scenes from the Defeat

Losing always makes me optimistic. It may be a character flaw.

Paul Richardson was fined $5,000 by league officials for his use of anti-gravity boots.
Paul Richardson was fined $5,000 by league officials for his use of anti-gravity boots.
Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports

In no particular order, because time is a lie conceived by the Bilderberg Group, let us consider some scenes from the defeat.

How to Blow an Assignment with Bluster

Pete Carroll plays starters on special teams--did you know that? He does. And that Russell Wilson fellow, he's a bit shorter than average for an NFL quarterback. Water: wet. Charles Manson: not as well known for his folk music.

The reason, the supposed reason, Carroll plays starters on special teams is because he cares so gosh darn much about special teams. I think. Or the reason is that it gives starters a quick sprint down field to get warmed up. Don't want anyone playing an important down without warming up first.

The problem with playing starters on special teams, apart from risking a vital player's health, is that it's not always clear that, say, a starter at free safety, a remarkable transcendent talent but not at guard or linebacker or gunner, but a free safety and only a free safety; it's not always clear that the starter is meaningfully better at special teams than some other far less valuable member of the roster.

We tend to talk up the amazing athleticism of the NFL's best of the best, but most players in the NFL are remarkably athletic. Some reserves more so than the starters they back up. Few match that talent so well to any one position. Many, like many of the best special teams players, are fast and a good size and terrifically athletic but just mismatched for any of the highly specialized jobs found on offense or defense. Special teams has always been a bit of a safe harbor for tweeners: too-small linebackers, and gifted receivers and defensive backs that could never master the skills of the skill positions.

What I am getting at is: Bennie Cunningham's 75-yard return was probably Earl Thomas's fault.

Here's Thomas.


Here's Thomas arriving very late, attempting a heroic? tackle in the open field.


And here's Cunningham running unopposed up the right sideline--where Thomas was supposed to be.


Jermaine Kearse saved Seattle from allowing a touchdown return. He started here.


The kick skipped up to Cunningham and when he fielded it and began running out of the end zone, you could hear a few people booing, one desperate "no!" and the low, ascending groan turned cheer of the stadium audience. Perhaps offering rejoinder to what Nikolai Gogol said: "[F]ear is more contagious than the plague and instantly translated."

And so too is excitement.

In Which a Lead Is Taken and Never Relinquished

Tony Siragusa, "Goose," is perhaps best known for body slamming Rich Gannon and proving now and forever that dirty, injurious play, tactfully administered, wins championships. Darryl Johnston, "Moose," is best known for his violent rutting behavior and many cameos on Northern Exposure. Neither are much discussed for their ability to flesh out and enrich the otherwise intimidatingly complex and jargonized game of gridiron football. Neither, I think, are given enough credit for their befuddling nonsense.

Goose said St. Louis was blowing the Seahawks defensive line off the ball, and to punctuate this insight, said he could probably run through the "huge hole" Tre Mason ran through for his touchdown run. Let's see if GIMP 2 concurs.


Guess not.

The problem here is not the hole. The problem is a crease, offensive linemen on linebackers, linebackers not getting off those blocks, Malcolm Smith and Kam Chancellor both covering the same hole, and Thomas closing too late. Smith should have closed the hole Mason exploited.


Here's an anecdote to make a point: Last spring I was in the ER doped on morphine and waiting to be discharged. A bro-looking guy in scrubs walked into the hospital room. This was the 11th person who had helped me (though, ultimately, no one helped me) and among the many specialists that day, a nurse, another nurse, a phlebotomist, an MRI guy, a doctor, a nurse's assistant, and whoever else, this guy's area of expertise was drink service.

He was there to offer me one of three choices: cranberry, apple or orange juice. After thinking about cranberry, feeling a bit timid, I asked for apple. He responded with visible and audible relief, and in explanation, offered a lengthy discourse in just how terrible, unsavory and morally bankrupt cranberry juice is, and how it could go back to the fetid bog it hatched from. More or less.

He so disliked cranberry juice that he could not conceive of anyone else liking cranberry juice. And so too the former defensive lineman, Goose, is wont to assume a touchdown run is a failure of the defensive line. Like Moose hates holding calls on open-field blocks, and Phil Simms hates innovations to the passing game which arrived after his retirement, most color commentators find it exceedingly difficult to see a game holistically, not fixate on their particular expertise, and explain the game's proceedings without the aid of cliche, trade speak and dubious truisms. They hate cranberry juice. They naturally assume everyone agrees. They do not even know why the crap even exists.

The Mayhem of Robert Turbin, Lead Blocker

Here is Marshawn Lynch.


Here is Janoris Jenkins, aka the defender attempting to tackle Marshawn Lynch.


Here is Robert Turbin.


And here is Turbin blocking Jenkins into Lynch.


More from Our Erstwhile Deserving Defensive MVP

Brett Favre made a lot of people happy when he said Austin Davis could be the next Kurt Warner or Tom Brady. Not Rams fans, who are never happy. But those people who squat commonly searched words and phrases, issuing content like a botfly issues maggots--right out of a horse's ass.

Jeff Fisher showed little trust in the young, third-string signal caller he cut barely more than two years ago. Go figure. But in a rare moment of insight, Johnston relayed something Fisher had said to him before the game "They feel like they have a good feel for the spot drops of the Seahawks and where they can attack them on first and second down." And so Davis completed a lot of quick, short passes just outside the Seahawks defenders' zones.

That's not the silver bullet it may seem. Zones are fluid and their boundaries should be adaptable. But it's pretty obvious that through the first half, Seattle wasn't ready and this potential weakness was exploited. Davis was 9-9 on passing attempts in the first and second quarter. This play explains why.

First and ten: Rams run a play-action seven step drop out of a two wide receiver (left), I-formation. The slot receiver is actually tight end Jared Cook, and so this is a run-heavy formation to say the least. St. Louis keeps in seven blockers, but the fullback blocks before releasing, and so it's pretty close to eight blockers.

Kam and the linebackers are sucked up, and there's no underneath coverage. Bruce Irvin does his job against Cook. No one bothers with Cory Harkey. And Brian Quick runs to a soft spot between Thomas and Tharold Simon.


It's ugly. It's easy. It worked.

And don't even ask what the hell Kam and Sherm are doing.


How is it that the Seahawks are better without Percy Harvin? This nine yard reception by Doug Baldwin to convert a first on third and five may offer one explanation: team chemistry.


Why is it that Baldwin and Paul Richardson were able to perfectly coordinate this pick play? Able to spring Baldwin wide open toward the left flat without anything resembling offensive pass interference? Maybe it's because of the natural humility found in a rookie playing for snaps. Or maybe Richardson's particular talents and skills just allow him to get into his slant pattern just fast enough to set the pick, but not so fast to blow the deception.

No modern computer can pilot a car in real-world driving conditions. So magnitudinous would be the calculations involved that even a fantastic computer, one of a speed and complexity beyond the bounds of modern technology, would take too long to do simple, everyday things: like differentiate a puddle from a pothole.

And so we can rest assured that the hard to pin down quality of "chemistry" between teammates is safe for myself and my professional colleagues to interpret however it suits us, whenever it suits us, and safe from scrutiny. No hard-firing HAL can make a mockery of my drivel until some enterprising person figures the whole P vs. NP thing out, and until then, let us wallow in fatuousness. Or let's not. Let's never, even.

If a player is sufficiently talented, you may sacrifice talent at other positions to maximize the expressed talent of that one player. The Seahawks have clearly built their offensive line around Marshawn Lynch and run blocking. Maybe Eric Winston would have been a better pass blocker than Justin Britt, but Britt was chosen because Carroll wants his offense built from the ground-game up. We can quibble about the modernity of such thinking, and whether it still makes sense now that Russell Wilson is a franchise quarterback, but we can't much argue with the results.

Seattle is not building its passing game around Doug Baldwin. Even if he did nearly receive for more yards last Sunday than Harvin has all season. Seattle is now building around Wilson.

The Seahawks passing game is like a great ensemble cast in a situational comedy. And like any great modern situational comedy, the reviews have been great, and it's won some awards, but the ratings, that is the public opinion, have not been nearly so strong. Harvin was added as a ringer. Asked what viewers liked about golden era The Simpsons, most responded that they liked the pretty colors and when Homer gets hurt. Harvin did not improve the Seahawks offense, he improved the optics of the Seahawks offense--how good it seemed like it could be. He appealed to the colors and pratfalls constituent.

Wilson is the straight man. Always the funniest and most gifted of a great ensemble, the straight man doesn't get the good lines--he's surrogate for the viewer, gives those lines appropriate context, and makes the good lines actually funny. Harvin belonged to the David Brent school of comedy: "[T]here's no straight man. There's no dead wood." Every play was to be a laugh riot, tricks on tricks, gags on gags, and between the one-yard gains and two-yard losses, one couldn't help but think of author John D. MacDonald's take on comedy, "In clumsy hands ... humor turns to dirge[.]"

Chemistry ... chemistry makes a passing game. Some exercise ruthless control. Others exalt and pout as if playing alongside brothers. Not long ago Harvin was comparing Wilson to Brett Favre: his presence; his leadership. Now Harvin's receiving for Geno Smith.


I could go on and on. Let's finish up with something good before taking a moment to appreciate the ruthlessness of Jeff Fisher.

The Future?

It's third and five at the Seattle 15, and the Seahawks are down big. Rushing for five or more on third and five isn't unheard of, but it's also not super common. That plus the score means the Seahawks are effectively off-schedule. The Rams will attempt an overload blitz, Lynch be damned.

Seattle sets: Two wide receivers right, one left (Richardson), tight end left, running back right, shotgun.

The blitz is supposed to arrive like this:


With the left outside linebacker acting as a "green dog." If Lynch stays in to block, he's the one extra guy the offense can't account for.

That nonsense of white lines up there means this in words: right defensive end Quinn is taking a wide rush around Cooper Helfet. The defensive tackle next to him works inside toward the left "A" gap. His intention is to draw the center and create space in the right "A" gap. This is where the left defensive end and left outside linebacker will rush. To ensure that space, the right defensive tackle attacks wide as if he were an end, and he were attempting edge rush around right end. Alec Ogletree, the Mike in this package, is spying Wilson. The Rams called this the "stalker" position in order to ramp up the creepiness, and ensure football is maximally unfriendly to women. Everywhere else it's man coverage.

Snap--and it's working.


Not as planned, but working. J.R. Sweezy peels off and blocks the stunting end. Lynch is there should the linebacker continue. But it's Aaron Donald, the tackle whose job was to create space for other rushers, that is around Britt and creating pressure. Donald was beastly all game. But only now showing his intentions, Wilson cocks and fires and throws a perfect back shoulder pass to Richardson. He's not open except for the small space created by his body shielding corner E.J. Gaines, and the length of his arms.


Sometimes it seems there is an aesthetic rather than functional emphasis on "hands catching," but this is one of those times where that 20 inches or so Richardson commands with his body and arms and hands, is all that is open. Anything but a hands catch is incomplete.

Pete Carroll yells "Good job, Paul! Great job! Great job!"

How good a player's "hands" are is never really known until that player's career is over and done. Because great hands are not, like Michael Crabtree or former Seahawk Mike Williams, defined by the spectacular catch. Great hands are defined by every catch, every attempt at a catch, the easy and the hard, the high-points and the juggles into the body, the one-on-ones and the ones in traffic, and only after a career's worth of converting the easy and the spectacularly difficult can we say "this guy had great, great hands."

Here's hoping Richardson's are at least good.


I won't bother analyzing the fake punt Fisher turned into a near game-winning fourth down conversion. It's all there and pretty obvious on first viewing. But consider the mercilessness of Fisher.

This was the most unsettled week of the Pete Carroll Seahawks era. If ever there were a time to empty the bag of tricks and steal one from a reeling team, this was the week to do it, and Fisher did.

But most mercilessly, most admirably sinister of escaped NASCAR driver Jeff Fisher, is when he chose to call the fake punt.

Just active, Kevin Norwood dropped kick returner Tavon Austin at the Rams 11.

Michael Bennett tore through on first and ten and dropped Bennie Cunningham for a two-yard loss. Timeout.

Sherm stopped Cook three short of the first down. Timeout. No more timeouts remaining.

And ... a pass! Sherman smothers Austin and slaps the ball away, incomplete. Clock stopped. Fourth down. Carroll's faith in his defense, justified. Field position, should be in Seattle's favor. Down, only two. A field goal wins it.

And then ... then ... from a 51% win probability! the fake punt drops Seattle down to 9%.

For some time now, the Rams have been laughable. Congratulation to Jeff Fisher for making St. Louis worth hating again.