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Seahawks lose to Chargers: Closing the Book on San Diego

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Soooo... you're telling me there'll be no 16-0 this year?

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

In the days following the loss, Seahawks fans have been fortunate to get a lot of good insights from the usual suspects here at Field Gulls and on a variety of other Seahawks fan blogs and media websites. No one seems to be overreacting to the loss, at least not among Seahawks fans, and that's a good thing. People seem to have made peace with the fact that Seattle in no way deserved to win. A tip of the cap is due the Chargers for playing their butts off. More than that, well wishes in the AFCW race. Better the Bolts than the Broncos every day of the week and twice on Sunday.

Yet at the same time Seattle might have won, save for a few plays both incredible and infuriating. San Diego controlled the clock in perhaps the most inefficient way possible--roughly 5 yards at a time, a whole lotta times. The Chargers had few big plays (20+ yards) and only mediocre field position. In fact, they were more potent with a long field. They scored two touchdowns on 70+ yard drives, but scored a touchdown and a field goal on their two shortest fields. It's as if they set out to intentionally annoy a lazy analyst looking for easy, morality-laden tropes about trap games and proverbial bull's eyes on chests.

Phillip Rivers conducted a clinic on navigating a messy pocket and making tough throws under duress. That pains me to write because I genuinely don't care to watch Rivers play, though I've always respected him. He's one of the league's best when he's right, but his game is not easy on the eye. Rivers is kinda the NFL's version of Paul Pierce. You have to be a junkie to enjoy actually watching him.

Anyway, onto the Seahawks. I'll focus "Closing the Book" on a few takeaways that may (or may not) be indicative of what's in store for the team in the weeks ahead.

1. What's the deal with the tackling?

Ultimately, Pete Carroll's defense is relatively simple in what it tries to accomplish. It tries to force offenses to safer but shorter plays, particularly in the passing game. If an offense must string a series of non-explosive plays together to score, the odds of committing a turnover (or some other crippling negative play) go up. Now, It's one thing to say "Our defense is predicated on taking away the big play." It's another thing to actually take away the big play. Tackling, coverage technique, and gap fits must all be crisp and disciplined. If not, things fall apart.

I have often wondered whether tackling, the most basic element of any defense, is subject to year-to-year variation. In other words, do players simply have bad tackling years? In baseball, for instance, defensive metrics tell us that even bona fide good defenders have bad years. I ask, because in the Pete Carroll era the Seahawks have been a good tackling team. (Well, after his first year.) Nevertheless, the team has seen brief stretches of poor tackling (and poor gap integrity). Recall road losses at Detroit and San Francisco in 2012. In fact, the tackling at San Diego reminded me most of the 2012 Detroit game. Matt Stafford converted multiple 3rd and short-to-medium plays based on shoddy tackling. Similarly, last season's team nearly lost at home to Tampa when unheralded RB, Mike James Timmy Smith'd all over the defense for three quarters. At St. Louis, Zac Stacy went nuts before getting stoned in a goal line stand to end the game.

The team has followed up those bouts of poor fundamentals with exquisite defensive efforts. So I see little reason to panic, but tackling is something that you know Pete is addressing this week. We should all keep an eye out to see whether and how much it improves. To be fair, the vast majority of the worst offenses actually happened in the first half. The second half tackling and play recognition were generally improved.

2. What's the deal with the OLBs?

I ask again this week, has anyone seen K.J. Wright? He did manage to chip in with a hold on a punt return. I'm a Wright fan, but he appears to be having one really crappy start to the season. Here's hoping he gets back on track. Malcolm Smith has been a mixed bag. BWagz has been just short of spectacular.

3. The defensive line abused San Diego's offensive line all game.

I thought the defensive line played well as a unit, but didn't realize how well until re-watching. Turn on the game and it is genuinely surprising how often someone is just dump-trucking a Charger's offensive lineman back towards Rivers. Seattle consistently re-set the pocket in or close to Rivers' lap. Yet he calmly waded through the muck and mire, especially in the second half.

His second TD to Gates (over Wright) was both magisterial and ironic. Magisterial, because Rivers' concentration and ball placement is just that. That pass was as much a jump shot as it was a pass. The irony is that Bennett beat the LG so soundly he lost his own balance. The dazed guard, with his ass and his arms headed in opposite directions, recovered enough to softly escort the stumbling Bennett the rest of the way to the ground. That action opened up a throwing lane for Rivers. Otherwise, Bennett might have sawed him in half. It was just that kind of day.

4. I wonder if Pete regrets punting on 4th and 2 from just inside the 40 with 8:52 to go.

I wasn't yelling "go for it" at the time. So I won't go all hindsight bias now. I just wonder if Pete was tempted at all, and if he had to do it over whether he'd go for it there.