The Rams played their first game back in Los Angeles and invited the Seahawks over to celebrate. Seattle, ever polite, brought a housewarming gift in the form of their worst game in five seasons, losing a 9-3 groaner in 90-degree heat. It’s not that I hate the Rams, it’s that they make me so damn uncomfortable.
Much of the talk leading up to this game centered around the battle between Seattle’s O-line and LA’s D-line and it went about exactly the way anyone who’s ever watched these teams play each other imagined. the Rams front annihilated. The matchup was Biblical in scope, with the Rams DL boasting four Goliaths while the Seahawks’ OL amounted to about one David, collectively. In this version of the story, however, the Goliaths simply stomped David into the ground, raided his pasture, and ate his bleating sheep alive.
The ‘Hawks were out-gunned across the board up front, but nobody took a beating quite like the one Bradley Sowell suffered. Robert Quinn and Aaron Donald spent the entire game dunking on Sowell, beating him with all manner of rush moves. It got so bad that Sowell began jumping the snap just to give himself a chance and while he probably should have been called for a half-dozen false starts along the way, all his premature get-off got him was more embarrassment. One one hand, he has started the season against an unrelenting wave of top-tier pass rushers. On the other hand, Bradley Sowell’s picture in the team program is of him lumbering after a defensive end in his own backfield, so...
The consequences of this line-of-scrimmage beatdown was Seattle’s skill position players scrambling for survival all game long. Russell Wilson’s high-ankle sprain reduced him from multi-dimensional dynamo to cement-footed pocket passer with neither the time nor the mobility to go through his reads. The fact that he was even able to play today was miracle, considering the piano that fell on his foot just seven days ago, but grittiness alone wasn’t enough today.
The hope among Seattle fans was that a supposedly healthy Thomas Rawls and an aggressive gameplan would jumpstart the running game and take some of the pressure off of Wilson. That went out the window as soon as the Rams’ front seven kicked it in on the first play of the game. Rawls was stopped in the backfield on three of his first four carries and ran for -7 yards on seven carries before limping off the field to be replaced by a much more effective Christine Michael. It was a disappointing return to the starting lineup for Rawls but he also never stood a chance, as he was attempting to dodge tacklers as soon as he got the ball. I haven’t heard the nature or extent of his injury yet but here’s hoping he didn’t suffer too much of a setback.
The lone bright spot on Seattle’s offense was Tyler Lockett, consistently got loose early and hauled in three catches for 46 yards before a knee injury forced him out of the game midway through the second quarter as well. Not only did Lockett account for half of his team’s total yardage in his brief appearance, he had another 30+ yard grab called back on a petty-ass offensive PI call, one of a staggering three OPI’s called on the ‘Hawks this afternoon.
All told, Seattle managed just 147 yards on 36 plays in the first half, a limp performance that net them a measly three points. As Craig Johnstone (who you should definitely be following on Twitter, but only after you sign this waiver) put it:
Watching the Seahawks' offense is like humping concrete— Craig (@MCraigJohnstone) September 18, 2016
As if the injuries (oh yeah, Doug Baldwin also got rolled up on and hobbled through most of the game) and penalties (10 for 118 yards) weren’t enough, Seattle’s average starting field position was their own 17 yard line, which is like asking a toddler to climb a ladder and then greasing the rungs. Might as well have been starting from underneath their own uprights.
The saving grace for the Seahawks was the continued tenacity of their defense, who held the Rams to 283 total yards just seven days after limiting the Dolphins to 214. They shut down Todd Gurley, holding him to 51 yards on 19 carries, and gang tackling at every turn. They got consistent pressure from Frank Clark, Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett, and Cassius Marsh, recording three sacks despite having a huge one waived off on an incidental facemask* late.
*Of all the baffling rules changes in the NFL over the years, perhaps the most baffling is the erasure of the five-yard facemask penalty. Fifteen yard, automatic first down penalties are game-changers and should only be called in obviously warranted situations. What a weirddumb thing.
And while the Rams’ box score doesn’t have much to show, and despite the fact that the majority of their plays went for under four yards, they strung together enough mid-range completions to extend drives into Seattle territory. The result was three field goals which should never be sufficient to win an NFL game. Bobby Wagner looked especially good, as did the aforementioned pass rushers and most of the secondary. In fact, there was only one soft spot on the Seahawks defense in this one and that was DeShawn Shead, who was victimized repeatedly by Kenny Britt and Lance Kendricks.
It’s not that DeShawn was getting torched, per se, but the guys he guarded were repeatedly able to find just enough space that a well-thrown ball would get the job done. I’m not worried by it and I’m not going to complain about a defense that’s allowing 9.5 points per game, but in a contest in which the defense had zero margin for error, that margin was found by targeting Shead.
It wasn’t as though Seattle never had a chance, though. Much like last week, Wilson and Co. got the ball back late in the fourth with a couple chances to drive for the winning score. That’s when the refs, who’d been stealing scenes all night, took over. On Seattle’s penultimate drive, a big first down conversion was called back when yet another questionable offensive pass interference was called against Kearse. After Jon Ryan punted it away for the 42nd consecutive drive, the Rams trickled the ball back up the field before facing a third down with about four minutes left. That’s when the dam broke and Marsh came pouring through the gap in LA’s OL. As Marsh corralled Case Keenum for the monstrous, field-flipping sack, flags rained down like sprinklers at a dance party. Replays showed that Marsh’s hand did make contact with Keenum’s facemask and, instead of calling the incidental five-yarder, the draconian rule book decreed a 15-yard penalty and an automatic first down.
Undaunted, the Seahawks D bowed up again, leveraging a couple of big tackles and a holding call against the Rams to give the ball back to the offense with time for one more drive. That’s when Lockett, who had apparently talked his knee out of being injured, made his triumphant return. Smoking his man off the line of scrimmage, Lockett found himself hauling in a beautiful lob from Wilson for 53 yards, bringing the ‘Hawks within scoring distance with about a minute and a half to play. Two snaps later, facing a 3rd & 10, Wilson flipped the ball out to C-Mike, who had the ball jarred loose while fighting for the first down. The Rams smothered the ball and proceeded to kneel out the clock, evening the teams’ records at 1-1.
-Christine Michael, game-ending fumble notwithstanding, looked excellent today. Despite the lack of blocking up front, he managed 86 yards on just 13 touches, running quickly and decisively. I feel fine if he’s the guy going forward, but the team will be in really great position if they can ever get Rawls fully back as well.
-Injuries, man. They should make them illegal.
-Jimmy Graham keeps looking closer to be all the way back. Graham worked his way back onto the field for the majority of the snaps and finished second on the team in catches (3), yards (42), and targets (4).
-The only player to top Graham in all three categories was Lockett, who had four catches for 99 yards despite only being on the field for four drives. Kid is something special.
-The moments where Frank Clark looks like an all-world defensive lineman are becoming more and more frequent. A constant harrasser of the Rams’ backfield, he had a sack where he beat a double team so quickly that they patty-caked each other trying to block him after he zipped between them at the snap. With Bennett and Avril as his mentors, there really is no ceiling for this guy.
-For the second straight week, the Seahawks turned the ball over twice while recording no tunrovers of their own. Fumbles and interceptions are still fairly random occurrences and are difficult to predict, but this is starting to become worrisome.
Look, I’m not going to sugarcoat that game. That’s as bad as the Seahawks have been since they’ve been good. The offensive line is over-matched, literally all of the team’s best skill players are hobbling, and they’re committing penalties like it’s the Purge and they’ve got one day to get it out of their system. Only problem is they do this seemingly every week. It was ugly and boring and stupid.
That said, this is still a team allowing the fewest points per game and the fewest yards per game of any team in the NFL. They are, believe it or not, tied with everyone else in the division. They’ve gotten two bad offensive performances out of their system and are in no worse position as it relates to their postseason odds than they were before the season started.
We all knew it could look ugly at the beginning of the season. hell, it almost always does. The team’s track record overwhelmingly supports the idea that they will improve mightily as the season goes on and have earned the benefit of my doubt in that regard. Doesn’t mean it’s not annoying as hell. Next on the docket are the 49ers back in Seattle. Chance to get healthy and feeling good. Onward, upward, and cheers!
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