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Cigar Thoughts, Game 14: Seattle rams Los Angeles, clinches NFC West in 24-3 drubbing

The Seahawks won their fourth division title in seven years, beating the Rams by three touchdowns.

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NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks
When the time comes to be great, be great.
Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Remember when winning the division was a big deal? Cuz the Seahawks just did it again. It wasn’t always like this. It seems weird now, when our molten expectations are annually poured into a Lombardi Trophy cast, but the Seahawks didn’t use to win them very often. And while there are still some concerns, (hey, I’m right there with you), let’s at least take the time to not only appreciate that our favorite team won the NFC West, but that they’re a team that makes it seem almost a simple matter of course.

In 2010, Pete Carroll and John Schneider took over a 5-11 team and all they’ve done is win four division titles in the seven seasons since. The Seahawks are in the playoffs for the fifth straight season* and the sixth time in the last seven years. It wasn’t always like this and it won’t stay like this forever- bask and luxuriate in it. Now, to the game:

Three months ago, the Seahawks laid a poop egg against the Rams. It is fitting, then, that the fecal gestation completed in time for the rematch, with Richard Sherman accurately describing tonight’s game as a fully matured poopfest. I’ll give my usual caveat before getting into the specifics- I think all evaluation of Thursday night performances should be taken with a whole lick of salt- but the Seahawks looked pretty good tonight, sawing off the remaining nubs of the Rams’ horns with a 24-3 victory.

Let’s begin with the head of the snake. Russell Wilson started tonight on three days rest after the worst game of his entire career. He was facing a team against whom he’s been less effective against than just about any other, staring down a defensive front that have his blockers lapped in talent and experience. All of the excuses were built in for this game, and all he did is turn in one of his most productive games of the season. It’s not often you see a QB raise his passer rating by nearly 80 points from one game to the next, but Russ did that this evening, completing 19 of his 26 passes for 229 yards and three touchdowns. He would’ve jumped his rating by 100 if it wasn’t for an ill-advised lob into triple-coverage when it looked like he thought he had a free play.

Wilson wasn’t greedy, he simply ate until he was full then contentedly sat back and digested his NFL-record 34th home win in his first five seasons. He ran for 15 non-kneeling yards on three non-kneeling carries, which won’t blow anyone away, except that all three went for first downs, including twice on third down. He was very, very good tonight, and to do it against a defense that has tormented him throughout his career is a terrific sign for him moving forward.

Wilson was spectacularly efficient tonight, but for ten divine seconds, Tyler Lockett elevated him to simply spectacular. The single most impressive play of the game might have been Russell’s best deep ball of the season when, on 3rd & 11, he launched a pass along the seam and dropped it down the chimney for a division-clinching score. On the play, Lockett saw a cracked doorway of space lead to an open room on the deep right side. That initial sliver of separation was all Seattle’s erstwhile poet needed to blow the roof off and was the pinnacle moment of a stellar individula night.

Wilson sought out and found Lockett early on and continued to do so throughout the game. Lockett garnered 31% of his QB’s targets, turning his eight opportunities into seven catches, 130 yards, and a TD. It was the best game of the season for the speedster and this year’s first extended glimpse of the game-changing performer he was last season. It should be noted that all of this came against what was basically a second-string secondary but the eye-test matched the stats tonight. If this is the Tyler Lockett that Seattle gets for the rest of the season, watch the hell out.

While Wilson and Lockett balled out, the rest of the Seahawks offense were low-volume contributors. Doug Baldwin was his usual reliable self, snagging five of his six targets, albeit one of those was a touchdown in which he stole some poor kid’s soul on national television. Baldwin does this like three times a season. He’ll lie in the grass, picking up first downs here or there and then once every couple of months he’ll reduce a cornerback’s ego to dust with some crazy teleportation footwork. Jimmy Graham was held to one catch for the second straight game, although he made his singular grab count. On that play, he caught the ball near the left sideline and proceeded to discard a half-dozen tacklers like stray newspapers on a windy day. It went for 31 yards and was a brief reminder that the Seahawks’ tight end might actually be a werewolf.

The running game was abysmal tonight, a sharp detour for a ground attack that had been among the NFL’s best over the last four weeks. Thomas Rawls never had a chance to get going, often attempting to dodge his first tackler in the backfield and thanking God when it was only one. He finished with 39 yards on 23 touches, his 34 rush yards barely edging out his punter* for the team lead. All told, the ‘Hawks managed just 72 yards at a pitiful 2.4 yards per carry clip. Seattle’s over-matched offensive line did the best they could but they stood about as much chance as toddlers against a pack of Dobermans. It’s amazing that Seattle ran for any yards at all, to be honest. Let’s just be thankful that Rawls didn’t die and look forward to next week.

*There should be a bronze statue of Jon Ryan outside the stadium. Forget his punting ability, that man has given us more unintentionally hilarious plays than anybody in franchise history and I mean that literally. He’s a punter.

Whatever deficiencies the offense had was more than compensated for by the tenacious play of the defense. The Seahawks were studious in their assignments and malicious in their tackling. They harassed every aspect of LA’s offense and delivered a number of massive hits. They held the Rams to a pitiful 4.8 yards per pass and just 2.8 yards per run. Only twice did the Rams have a good look at the endzone and both times they failed in comical fashion. Once, when rookie Michael Thomas slipped behind the entire Seahawks defense before dropping the ball and again when Jared Goff missed the most open receiver in the history of the sport on a pass from the eight yard line. Aside from that, the Rams were guppies in a shark tank, managing a ghastly 183 yards and one measly field goal.

The pass rush that had been so sorely lacking the last three weeks was revved into high gear tonight. They terrorized Jared Goff until it was time to terrorize Case Keenum. Seattle recorded four sacks and seven QB hits, numbers that would likely have been much higher if Los Angeles’ QBs weren’t rushing checkdowns out of their hands like live grenades.

Michael Bennett was an absolute sea monster, treating blockers like garbage until he was knocked out by his own subhuman savagery. Late in the game, Bennett planted his feet and launched himself into the helpless sap assigned to him on a pitch play. Black Santa de-cleated the oaf and in a single movement, hit Todd Gurley so hard that Bennett went limp. It was a phenomenal play and the first true sign that Bennett was back to full strength after the injury. Of course that play did take him out for the end of the game, but it turns out it was “just” a wrenched neck and not the concussion we all feared.

Cliff Avril got back in the fast lane as well, notching 1.5 sacks to give him a career-high 11.5 on the season. Avril took the corners like a motor-cross racer, consistently beating his man with a lightning fast edge rush. And as if those two weren’t enough, Frank Clark added a ferocious sack of his own and contributed on another to give him nine in his extremely impressive sophomore campaign. Hell, tonight, the camera even loved Cassius Marsh, whose great plays were matched only by his idiotic penalties. This was one of the most dominant performances we’ve seen from this defensive front and was the biggest factor in Seattle holding the Rams to three points.

KJ Wright and Bobby Wagner were great again, and were joined in excellence by Mike Morgan, who has been terrific since his return to the club. Nothing mind-blowing from the linebackers tonight, but that’s because we’ve become so accustomed to their steady greatness.

Another game without Earl Thomas (who blessed us throughout the game from his Twitter feed), but aside from the aforementioned Thomas drop, it looked like a pretty damn good effort from Steven Terrell. I don’t even know if Thomas’ getting open was Terrell’s fault, he just happened to be the closest guy to him when the ball arrived. Other than that, all I saw from him was a handful of tackles and no one talking about how not having Earl was hurting them.

Richard Sherman gave up a couple of receptions which is only notable because that’s notable. His biggest play came when he momentarily sent Goff to the afterlife on this unfettered hit. Goff escaped the pocket unaware of a holding penalty behind him. Trying to wring a few extra meaningless yards out of the dry sponge that is the Rams offense, the rookie stayed in bounds one step too long and had a cup of coffee with his Maker, courtesy of Richard Sherman. The team’s #1 overall pick and franchise QB getting his memory erased on a play that net them negative ten yards is probably the most accurate concentration of the Rams season you could ask for.

All in all, the Seahawks looked as good as the Rams did bad. There were warts to be sure, but none that weren’t expected given the make-up of these teams’ rosters. Seattle is 9-4 and has a great shot at the first round bye. They have retaken the NFL lead in points allowed per game for the unprecedented fifth straight year, dropping it to 16.8 with tonight’s bludgeoning. Their offense lacks consistency but they do so in a year with few, if any, dominant teams, and with arguably the best defense in the world backing them up.

The Seahawks are NFC West champs. The Seahawks are going to the playoffs. Onward, upward, and cheers!

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