Narrative of the game:
Phillip Rivers. This was the entire discussion of threat to the Seahawks this week, and it was well deserved. After revitalizing his "elite" status last year with an insane jump in efficiency and commanding in a new offense under Head Coach Mike McCoy.
It put San Diego back in the playoff picture last year and after a tough, out of character loss, the offensive focus would be evident in this game. I personally keyed on Antonio Gates heading into the game. Feeling like though Gates wasn't the man he was even two years ago, his feel for the game with Rivers specifically made him a "must remove" on key downs.
I'll explain as we review five very detailed plays all from the first half.
[First Quarter 5:20 1st and 10 pass complete to Danny Woodhead gain of 15 yards tackle made by Malcolm Smith]
This play signifies everything that the Chargers did right in this drive. They ran out a multitude of formations, called several motions, and basically found an ideal matchup at every turn. Earlier in the drive they hit Woodhead isolated on KJ on a short 3rd down, completed a crossing route to Keenan Allen and also confused Seattle on a late bunch look to get a good inside matchup for a draw. It was just a flawless drive and then the mental mistakes start to occur.
Note the bunch formation with Byron Maxwell, KJ Wright, and Kam Chancellor covering. Then note the other side with Antonio Gates matched up with Malcolm Smith. At the snap it's immediately apparent to Rivers that no one has Woodhead accounted for, as Bobby Wagner bails deep. Smith drops with Gates and the middle is wide open. No matter the call by Dan Quinn, the defense has to make sure that every offensive player is accounted for. They don't and it turns into a huge gain for Woodhead.
[Second Quarter 12:11 3rd and Goal Touchdown Antonio Gates. Kam Chancellor covering]
As good as Kam Chancellor is and as much as we know him as a guy who blows up Vernon Davis, he gets schooled by Gates badly on this one. Gates isn't faster than Kam, he isn't quicker either, but he uses Kam's aggressive nature and poor press attempt to gain leverage on the route instantly. He then continues a few steps outside before stepping inside for the perfect pass from Rivers. This isn't a good play by anyone, but I would expect a little better one on one result then what we got here from Kam.
This is a route that Rivers knows he has instantly when he sees man coverage, because he and Gates have thrown this ball hundreds and thousands of times in practice and in games. It's no contest one on one vs Kam because he lost a press matchup so quickly. There's no chance of recovery here.
[Second Quarter 8:29 3rd and 5 Pass complete to Allen 13 yard gain tackle by Kam Chancellor
The aggressive tendencies of Seattle bite them again as Rivers converts this down. It's a great design by McCoy and a great execution by Keenan Allen. With a bunch formation up top, the Seahawks and most logical thinkers would say the ball is going there. So Seattle blitzes what would then be the blind side with Earl Thomas.
The problem is, Rivers sees the blitz and Richard Sherman gets schooled with a weak outside move by Keenan Allen. By being so aggressive he gives himself no chance to make a play, believing it's an outside route instantly and turning his back to the play.
[Second Quarter 4:57 3rd and 8 Pass incomplete, intended for Keenan Allen]
Byron Maxwell was not targeted much in this game, but on this key third down, Seattle brings extra people and forces the ball out of Rivers' hands. But, check out the defensive alignment by Seattle: Kevin Williams is in next to Brandon Mebane and Bennett is also down, but Cliff Avril is up between Mebane and Williams. Malcolm Smith will run a blitz partnered with Earl Thomas, and this will force Rivers to get rid of the ball instead of going through his full progressions.
Not all calls were bad and this was one of the better adaptations to Seattle's lackluster pass rush most of the afternoon against the Chargers. I found the alignment more interesting because Williams rushes from outside on the right. I actually said, "What the hell?" When I saw this combing through plays. I totally missed it.
[Second Quarter 1:11 3rd and Goal Touchdown Antonio gates covered by Malcolm Smith]
A lot of people would say this play is lucky but even if it is (which I do not agree with), Seattle again fails to take away Antonio Gates in a key spot. Instead of Chancellor whiffing on a press, this time it's Malcolm Smith holding on for dear life as Gates rides him inside and then works back outside. Rivers is under pressure, but gets the pass off and Malcolm who has been shaken lose on the hold, which draws a flag, winds up two strides behind Gates. Chancellor doesn't give any help until it's too late.
Two plays against Gates required press or redirect, both times it's failed and cost Seattle TDs. I said all week and during the game that the defense needed to key on Gates and eliminate him in key downs. I will keep saying it until something happens, either time reverses itself or somehow Seattle faces the Chargers in the Super Bowl.
Overall View Of The Game
This was probably the worst game I've seen Seattle play defensively since Miam in 2012. Pressure was bad, coverage was bad, keys were bad and coach calls were bad. This isn't one of those "clunkers you forget about." This was a mess that could turn bad in a hurry if the pass rush and coverage calls don't get fixed.
Covering Antonio Gates one on one is impossible, without considerable and instantaneous pressure. Some people may think I mean zone, but I don't. You force those throws in key downs away from Gates by bracketing him with two guys, period. You don't sit there and allow catch after catch in isolated man coverage and yet that's what we saw continuously through the game, even after halftime. Yep, it may mean those TDs happen someplace else, I get that, but after the first few plays?
This is really the first time I have felt livid about the approach of both Pete Carroll and Dan Quinn so I guess I should feel blessed that I'm not, like, in the days of Jim Mora where it was a constant, "What the f*** was that?!" But, this week definitely reminded me that the Seahawks are great, but they aren't unbeatable on defense. We'll have to see how things go moving forward.
Brandon Mebane: Seattle needed someone to step up as the Chargers went into a cruise control approach leaving lots of runs and shorter passes. Mebane set the tone early and often that he was not having anything to do with those inside draws and dives.
Pass rush: Because, oh my god, if I have to mention a lack of pass rush again on the road I'm gonna start having flash backs to 2012 and I don't wanna, I don't wanna I don't wanna. It's clear to me right now that neither Pete nor Dan really have much of a feel for how this d-line is supposed to work together quite yet. With so many combinations and alignments it looks like they are taking shots in the dark and hoping something sticks, or falls on the ground and dies.