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Seahawks-Rams preview: The biggest regular season game of the Russell Wilson era

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Seattle Seahawks v Los Angeles Ram Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

When the Seattle Seahawks play the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday, it’s effectively for their entire season. Win and you’re on top of the NFC West, needing two wins (or a win and a Rams loss) to clinch another division title, lose and you’re almost certainly not going to make the playoffs.

This is without a doubt the most important and biggest regular season game the Seahawks have ever played under Russell Wilson. The next closest one would be the memorable 2012 win over the San Francisco 49ers, which clinched a playoff spot and signaled the arrival of the Seahawks as a legitimate contender. Seattle was in good position to qualify for the postseason even if they’d lost to San Francisco, but this is the first time that we’ve sat here, three weeks to go in the season, with genuine concern that a Russell Wilson-led team won’t be one of the twelve teams vying for the Super Bowl. If the 2012 Seahawks were establishing themselves as a soon-to-be dominance force, the 2017 Seahawks are clinging to life as a relevant “elite” team in the NFL.

2017 has been a rather frustrating stretch of what is otherwise the best run of success in Seahawks history. They have an MVP-caliber quarterback, a top-10 wide receiver, and a middle linebacker who is playing at a Defensive Player of the Year level. And yet this is easily the worst Seahawks team of the Wilson era. At least the 2016 Seahawks, with a hobbled Wilson, were in #2 seed position entering Christmas weekend, and managed a 7-2-1 start with a road win against the New England Patriots. The 2017 Seahawks have routinely struggled to separate themselves from double-digit loss opponents.

For as much as Pete Carroll and John Schneider shaped the Seahawks to be balanced in every facet of the game — hence Seattle being DVOA #1 from 2012-2015 — the balance is gone. There are several parts of the current squad that are distinctly average-to-mediocre. They are 20th in special teams DVOA, 15th in pass defense, and 19th in rushing offense. Injuries to Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman have clearly affected the secondary, and we know the revolving door story at running back, but it’s not like the rushing attack was convincing even before Chris Carson went down.

So what happened? Why does this season feel different from the others? Beyond injuries, roster turnover, loss of assistant coaches, and loss of key scouts and assistants in the front office, you can point your finger at the uninspiring drafts that stretch back to 2013. If the backbone of the Seahawks was formed from the 2010-2012 drafts, its potential unraveling has been caused by a failure to replicate that success in recent years.

Luke Willson is the last man standing from what has to be considered a very poor 2013 draft. With Paul Richardson soon to enter free agency, there’s a real possibility that the only player from the 2014 draft who’s still on the Seahawks is Justin Britt. The 2015 class has seen good production in spurts from Frank Clark and Tyler Lockett, but then the third “best” player is Mark Glowinski, who just got waived on the eve of the Rams game. It’s still to early to judge 2016, but it the most productive pick thus far is Alex Collins, which would’ve been nice except he’s on the Baltimore Ravens.

I’ve not even included the failures outside the draft, such as Cary Williams, J’Marcus Webb, Bradley Sowell, Eddie Lacy, and Blair Walsh.

Long story short: The incoming talent has not adequately replaced the outgoing and/or aging talent. Not even close.

To be fair, we’ve been spoiled. Seattle hadn’t managed consecutive 10-win seasons from 1976 to 2011, then Russell Wilson came in and 10+ wins and playoff appearances are all Seahawks fans have ever known, and I’ve been told that 99% of the fanbase only started following the team since 2012. There’s a distinct possibility that comes to an end in a few weeks, and with it is the creeping feeling that it’s the end of an era in some respects. The defense that achieved historical greatness is staring at significant overhaul starting in 2018; whether through retirement, free agency, cap casualty, it is going to happen whether the season ends after week 17 or Super Bowl LII.

But the season isn’t over yet. The Seahawks have time and time again shown that when their backs are up against the wall, they spring to life. They were out of the playoff picture after losing to Kansas City in 2014, then ran the table on their way to the #1 seed. They were 4-5 and with the offense looking ghastly for much of the 2015 campaign, and answered with another incredible second-half surge. Even this season, a loss to the favored Philadelphia Eagles would’ve been devastating, and they turned in their best performance on the year. Only four times have the Seahawks lost consecutive games in a season.

The Rams have finally gotten off their asses and are actually good again, literally one year after firing Jeff Fisher, captain of the SS Seven and Nine. It wasn’t going to last forever. They could’ve buried this NFC West race already, but Seattle is still here. Russell Wilson never goes quietly into the night, and that’s why the Seahawks almost never get blown out.

Judgment day is fast approaching. The Seahawks defense is banged up beyond belief. How much does this team have left? We’ll find out our answer on Sunday, but hopefully it’s at least enough to sweep the leg Rams and take back first-place in the NFC West. If not, then what most likely comes next will be the most critical junction of the Russell Wilson era. It’ll determine how much longer and how wide the Super Bowl window still is.