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Little Things, Week 2: Seahawks play dead vs. Rams

The turnover’s lousy timing was the big thing. Let’s not forget all the paper cuts that led up to it.

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Los Angeles Rams
wait i was using that
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Little Things’ march through the 2016 season rapidly brings us to the most forgettable game of the season, although some of you will point to the Green Bay catastrophe as a better candidate.

This new offseason column (see the first/happier installment here) doesn’t examine each game via its most celebrated highlights, but instead through the second-tier plays that tend to be forgotten over time. Even though the so-called “little things” can be just as decisive as the SportsCenter moments.

First though, a rundown of the game’s main turning points.

Rams kicker Greg Zeueueueueueuerlieieinlein made three field goals. Steve Hauschka made one. That was all the scoring. #recapcomplete

Exciting kicks, multiply by four; rotate uniforms, there’s your score.

Okay, there might not have been many fireworks, but there were smokeworks, as Tyler Lockett got the final drive started with an explosive. All for naught in the end, but there was a brief period of time in which it looked like the Seahawks might realistically move to 2-0. (Seattle’s WPA peaked at 34.23% following the big play.)

However. A known sad ending looms.

Christine Michael had two fumbles on 137 touches last season. For his career, it’s a grand total of three, on 231 touches. The idea that he is prone to coughing it up — a narrative built upon the grave foundation of lies and deceit. And maybe some preseason jitters.

Michael fumbles every 77 touches. One helping of context seems in order.

Adrian Peterson? Once every 68.

Marshawn Lynch? Every 89.

Shaun Alexander? Every... 77 also.

So of course, on a potential game-winning drive, C-Mike deposits the live ball on the ground, like so:

Well, balls.

It was the only turnover of the game. And the Rams recovered to run out the clock.

little thing one

circumstances: qtr 2, 2nd & 5, la 44, 2:56 left

Here’s why Todd Gurley’s innocuous-looking eight-yard jaunt is a stealthy little thing: for most of the day, the Seahawks played a stouter brand of run defense, like so —

— as Michael Bennett turns 1st and goal into 2nd and long, indirectly causing the Rams to settle for a field goal two plays later.

But the upper Gurley run, that fateful conversion on second down, netted eight yards. He’d just picked up five on the play before.

Two runs for 13 yards. Eight and five. They were Gurley’s longest two of the day, back-to-back. Outside of those two plays, the Rams went 23-51-0 on the ground. Just so happens one of the field goal drives was built on a bit of well-timed decent running. The only bit of decent running.

little thing two

circumstances: qtr 2, 1st & 10, sea 14, 1:01 left

One of the knocks — fair or not — on Pete Carroll has been that he’s less than elite at time management. Here’s some ammo for the cause.

The Hawks have all three timeouts and begin their final first-half possession with a 9-yard dart to Jimmy Graham.

Then the next play isn’t snapped until :33 remains on the clock. Twenty-eight seconds down the drain, needlessly, on a drive that would get 17 more to Graham, nine more to Kearse, then stall at midfield. Could’ve thrown it a couple more times — then instead of Russell Wilson being stripped as the half ends, maybe you’re in field goal range instead, and the second half plays out in a vastly different (better) manner.

little thing three

circumstances: qtr 4, 1st & 10, sea 23, 8:14 left

It’s the penalties. They add up and cost points.

Often a drive is beset by one little thing going wrong. It’s not easy to string together enough positive plays to get into an opponent’s red zone, let alone their end zone. This is a big part of the Seahawks’ defensive philosophy: give only a little at a time, don’t get beat over the top, pounce on the inevitable error, force field goals.

Little things kill drives, or at the least, turn a promising possession into an uphill climb against probability.

Take this costly flag, for instance. No. Really. Take it and shove it.

First and 10 at the 23 is worth about 0.5 expected points. That’s where we begin the drive, which is not likely to bear much fruit. The numbers have spoken, and they have spoken in chart form to Brian Burke, formerly of Advanced NFL Analytics. You start at the 23, you’re getting half a point, on average, out of the drive. Look:

Ah, but your fortunes can quickly improve. First and 10 at the 39 is worth about 1.25 points. So EPA (get used to EPA as a go-to stat within this offseason series) was increased on the big play above by three-quarters of a point, assuming no flag on Jermaine Kearse. It’s an explosive pass play. Pete Carroll loves explosive plays because he secretly hates defense they lead to points.

As we know by now, assuming no flag on Kearse was not a wise move last season. The penalty — whose validity is a wee bit contested by Carroll — caused a two-point-plus swing in EPA. Because on the flip side, first and 20 at the 13 is worth negative expected points. About -1.1, to be vague about it. First and 10 would be a -0.1 situation, but we’re told to remove a point’s worth if it’s first and 20.

When you go off schedule, it’s harder to score. as obvious as that sounds. So don’t get dumb penalties, guys. Stay on schedule.

little thing four

circumstances: all game long, dammit

Few will say field position is a little thing. It is at least a medium thing. It determines a lot. Good kicking, good defense, good special teams all combine to produce good field position. But sometimes you don’t need all three, and a smaller thing like a flawless day from your punter will do quite fine instead.

Known turncoat Johnny “Benedict” Hekker (he quarterbacked Bothell High to much glory in state tournaments last decade) had the game his team needed when it needed it the most. I’m not going to show you six punts from Cliff Avril’s best friend (proof of their mutual respect), but here’s where they landed:

quarter 1: the 19

quarter 2: the 12 and the 19

quarter 3: the 10

quarter 4: the 9 and the 12.

All six were fair caught.

If you want another reason, besides tough defense, why there were no touchdowns in Week 2? Picture-perfect pinpoint punting. (Here’s a cloth for your laptop screen.)

So not only did the Hawks fail to take the ball away, but their best starting field position was their own 25. With long field all day, as you’d expect, Seattle went three-and-out some against a pesky defense such as LA’s. But that only happened twice. Six times, Seattle drove more than 25 yards and got no points. Six times! How is that even possible? Well, an average starting field position of YOUR OWN 17 is going to do that to you.

If you haven’t wiped this game from your organic hard drive, feel free to suggest other little-but-big moments below. Or just close this tab and wait for Week 3, which sucked way less.