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Cigar Thoughts, Game 5: Seahawks defense castrates NFL’s highest-scoring offense, beat Rams 16-10

The Seattle Seahawks forced five turnovers en route to winning a defensive battle and claiming the top spot in the NFC West.

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NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Los Angeles Rams Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

We’re used to Seahawks-Rams games being as awkward and devoid of scoring as a homeschool prom, but this matchup had the potential to be something different altogether. Los Angeles came into this game as the #1 scoring team in the NFL while giving up the 27th most points. Combine that with Seattle’s 36.5-point average over the last two games and the bleary, soulless southern California heat, and the table was set for a whole bunch of points. Ha!

Instead, this game was filled with dreadful apprehension and squeamish discomfort. Yards came at a premium, QBs were under duress constantly, neither team could run the ball, there were a million turnovers, the kickers got way too involved, and the whole thing came down to one stomach-churning play at the end. So, you know, the yoozh.

So how’d we get there? Following the devastating injury to Chris Carson, the lingering injuries of C.J. Prosise, and the mystery that is post-injury Thomas Rawls, Seattle’s RB roulette continued with Eddie Lacy getting the start. It ended up not mattering, since the Seahawks couldn’t get anything going on the ground regardless of who they gave it to. The Rams’ vaunted DL consistently won their battles in the run game, and keeping Seattle’s RBs from every getting room to make things happen. After a first down on their opening possession, negative plays forced the Seahawks to punt.

Flying high at 3-1, and scoring 35.4 points per game, the Rams took the ball and chunked it right down the field, caring not for the legion of Pro Bowlers on Seattle’s defense. Quickly bringing the ball into the red zone, early-season MVP candidate Todd Gurley got loose off the left side and sprinted for the pylon. Wrapped up at the 4, Gurley stretched the ball for the endzone as he was dragged out of bounds. That’s when the butcher Earl Thomas flew in out of nowhere and amputated Gurley’s hand at the wrist with a vicious downward chop.

In the moment, the play was ruled a touchdown but replay showed that the ball was knocked loose before it A) crossed the goal line and B) Gurley’s foot hit the sideline. Since the ball nicked the pylon, the touchdown became a touchback and Seattle retook possession. It was eerily similar to the TD-saving play Earl made against the Rams in Seattle a few years ago and underscores just how immeasurably valuable Thomas is to this franchise.

Given how the rest of the first quarter transpired, it’s a damn good thing Thomas made that play. Los Angeles ran 18 plays in the game’s opening 15 minutes, racking up 124 yards and dwarfing Seattle’s 15 for 28. It was the fifth slow start in five tries for the Seahawks offense, continuing a frustrating trend for a team whose defense is great as long as they don’t spend two-thirds of the game on the field. The second quarter saw a continuation of Seattle’s consternation, as Tavon Austin took a harmless handoff on 3rd & 11 and scampered 27 yards untouched into the endzone.

With the Seahawks down seven, and after another three-and-out, Jon Ryan booted the ball back to the Rams. Austin, perhaps afraid of people thinking he’s good now after scoring that touchdown, coughed up the fair catch and Neiko Thorpe pounced on it to give Seattle their second forced turnover and the ball in scoring range. Can’t have nice things though.

Gifted points by LA, Russell Wilson summarily heaved an ill-advised throw from the left hashmark all the way out to the right sideline, looking for Luke Willson. Unfortunately, when you throw a ball 40 yards in the air and only 8 of them are forward, bad things tend to happen. Safety John Johnson, not believing his luck, swooped under Willson and picked the ball off, returning it deep into Seattle territory and setting up a Rams field goal to make it 10-0 LA and the Seahawks seemed to be teetering on the brink just 18 quarters into the season.

Here’s the thing, for all the shit that you can talk about the Seahawks this year, you absolutely have to give them credit for their resiliency. Following what would have been a soul-rending turn of events for most teams, Wilson and Co. calmly took the field and proceeded to go 75 yards in 15 plays. Russ went 9-for-11 for 61 on that drive, converting all three 3rd downs and capping it with the type of play we haven’t seen near enough of in the last three years. Facing second & goal from the 4, Wilson took a quick three-step drop and fired it towards a single-covered Jimmy Graham. Finally given the opportunity to serve the purpose for which he was created, Zeus’ son elevated effortlessly over the poor mortal sacrificed to him and hauled in the pass for the touchdown.

On that possession, Seattle’s running backs ran it twice for four yards. After a quick Rams punt, they passed it back down the field for a field goal before the end of the second quarter. By the time the half was over, the Seahawks had 11 designed carries for 17 yards. They’d finish with 19 for 39. The Seahawks are a passing team now — just need the team to acknowledge it.

The third quarter was fairly uneventful, with Greg Zuerlein mercifully missing a 36-yard field goal and Blair Walsh booting one through from 49 to put Seattle ahead. On LA’s final drive of that quarter, they started to get churning again. A long Rams drive, filled with stupid Jared Goff checkdowns and annoying dump-offs, put LA back in scoring range. That’s when, on 2nd & 10, JaGoff faked a handoff and rolled to his right. Or, at least, he would’ve if he didn’t trip over his own feet like a 6-month-old Newfie and tumble to the turf. With Seattle dropping seven into coverage on the ensuing third & long, Goff surrendered any chance at first down and attempted a short lob to Gurley. His pass, safe as it should’ve been, sailed on Gurley, was tipped and bazinga, Sheldon Richardson snagged it out of the air for the interception. Richardson joyfully chugged down the field for moderate return and, for the second straight possession, the Rams came away with nothing despite threatening.

The Seahawks couldn’t do anything with the turnover, however, putting the balance of the game back in the hands of 2016’s #1 overall pick. At first, it looked like the Seahawks would wipe the Rams drive into the dustbin, as they appeared to force a punt after the D-line harassed Goff into an incompletion on 3rd & 8. The Seahawks began jogging off the field before anyone noticed a flag had fallen. Frank Clark, it turns out, committed the egregious sin of putting his hand to the face of the 320-lb monster trying to manhandle him, and the ensuing penalty kept the drive alive. Whoever decided illegal hands to the face is an automatic first down should be tied to the top of the uprights for a game.

It looked like the Rams would make Seattle pay for the mistake, as they racked up a couple more first downs and moved the ball onto the Seahawks’ side of the field. One of them was a sensational throw-and-catch from Goff to a diving Robert Woods, who corralled it as he fell fully prone to the ground. It was a play reminiscent of the ones from Tony Romo and Philip Rivers and Austin Davis to Terrance Williams and Antonio Gates and Lance Kendricks on their game-winning drives against Seattle in years past. With the fourth quarter clock ticking, Goff then stepped into a collapsing pocket and short-armed a throw over the middle. His wounded duck quacked pathetically over the head of his intended receiver, where it was put out of its misery by His Highness, Earl Thomas. The interception quelled the Rams threat for a while, but again the offense could do nothing with the opportunity and punted it back three plays later.

Given yet another chance, Goff found tight end Tyler Higbee for 29 yards and again, the Rams were on the move. On the very next play, however, Clark rudely dismissed one of the game’s best left tackles in Andrew Whitworth and raced around the edge. Bending his body like a motorcycle taking a turn at 60 mph, he leveraged his way back to Goff, stripping him of the football, and watching as Richardson gobbled up the ball and maniacally bounded down the sideline with his second turnover of the game.

With just under three minutes to go, and the ball on LA’s 20, the Seahawks again failed to move the sticks even once, which would’ve locked things up. Instead, they settled for another Blair Walsh field goal (how good has he been?) and gave the Rams one more chance, now down six and with 1:09 to play.

I gotta hand it to Goff. Coming off a million turnovers, and playing his worst game of the season, the youngster showed absolutely no fear, attacking the middle of the field for a huge gain to Higbee and following it up with another big one to Robert Woods. That put the ball on Seattle’s 20 and gave the Rams four shots to do something about it. The first play was a spike. The second was an incompletion. On the third, Cooper Kupp, who I’m still not convinced is a real person, turned Justin Coleman around in the slot and streaked for the endzone. Goff saw the seam and threaded the ball right through it and off the hands of a diving Kupp. It was a great route, a good throw, and a lucky-as-hell outcome for Seattle. The game’s final play was a shot to the goal line that skipped short of a blanketed receiver and one kneel-down later, the Seahawks could exhale.


-Russell Wilson has to become “the guy” for this offense and the game plan needs to reflect that before they go the majority of the first half doing diddly ass. This team cannot run the ball in the traditional sense and insisting upon doing so only shortens the game. To that end, however, we saw more versatility from Seattle’s offense today (including a beautifully designed, terribly executed double pass from Tanner McEvoy that was intercepted) than we have all year. They moved the pocket around for Russ, found new way to involve Jimmy Graham, and incorporated their deadly little switchblade J.D. McKissic.

Wilson had a terrific stretch at the end of the second quarter, leading two scoring drives in a span of a few minutes on the strength and accuracy of his arm. Outside of that, however, he didn’t do a whole lot. He finished 24 of 37 for 198 yards, the TD, and the pick. It was the third time in four games he’s failed to reach 200 yards passing and while passing yards aren’t the world’s best measurement of greatness, it’s still super helpful to have them.

-Nothing in this game did much to separate the stagnant curds in Seattle’s RB room. I do believe there’s a lot of talented players there, but right now it just doesn’t matter. Eight carries, 20 yards for Rawls, 9 for 19 for Lacy, and 2 for 0 by McKissic. This team has to start running off the pass and while I know that’s antithetical to the Pete Carroll philosophy, there’s no sense in continually smashing a warped peg into a non-existent hole.

-Jimmy Graham followed up his terrific second half last week with another good game today. The numbers (6 catches on 8 targets for 37 yards and the TD) aren’t spectacular on the surface, but they were by far the most important ingredient salvaging Seattle’s lumpy offensive souffle. Doug Baldwin also had 8 targets but was only able to convert 4 of them into catches, and also had 37 yards. McKissic had 3 for 36, Paul Richardson had 3 for 35, and Tyler Lockett turned his 3 grabs into 26 more. Nothing special from those guys but today, it was just enough.

-With Seahawks twitter melting down over Seattle’s defense being old and slow in the first quarter, all they did is go on to hold the league’s top-scoring offense to 10 points while forcing an incredible 5 turnovers. The Rams had the ball in Seattle territory eight times, and in the red zone five, but came away with just 10 points.

Jared Goff completed just 46% of his 47 throws with two picks, no TDs, and a fumble lost — leaving September’s darling with a ghoulish passer rating of 48.9. Todd Gurley came in responsible for an absurd 53% of LA’s yards from scrimmage, and his monstrous 596 total yards ranked second in the NFL. He was averaging 149 yards on an absurd 27 touches per game but in this one, he had just 50 on 16.

-Seattle now ranks 3rd in the NFL in points allowed per game.

-Earl Thomas and Sheldon Richardson each came away with two turnovers this afternoon, which is nothing short of tremendous. In 2012, 2013, and 2014, when the Seahawks were truly frightening, they were turning teams over at a remarkable rate. The last two seasons haven’t seen much of that but mercy, these last two games have been incredible in that regard. Kam Chancellor had multiple nice plays in coverage, Justin Coleman and Shaquill Griffin were mostly great. Richard Sherman was absolutely outstanding, holding standout WR Sammy Watkins to zero catches on four targets while blanking whatever other jamokes the Rams lined up against him. The entire team tackled extremely well, which can’t be understated.

-The Seahawks went 8 for 17 on third downs, which is wonderful by their standards. Doing so allowed them to win the time of possession battle despite netting a paltry 241 yards. Can’t overstate how important having 3rd & Manageable is. The Rams, for their part, went 8 for 15, which is less awesome if you’re a ‘Hawks fan.

-For the second straight game, Seattle was pretty good on the penalty front. Just 7 for 40 yards which, again, is one of those phases in the game you have to be good in to alleviate pressure on your guys.

This win was not pretty, nor was it the type of performance that instills newfound confidence in a struggling offense. It was, however, the type of win that the 2013 Seahawks slugged their way to all season before 43-8 made us all remember them as world-destroying monsters that mashed the entire NFL en route to a title. It was the type of win that you have to have, and it elevates the Seahawks to first place in the division and just one game back of the #1 seed in the NFC.

NFL wins are hard. NFL road wins are even. Do the best you can to enjoy it. Onward, upward, and cheers!


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