The Seattle Seahawks came into this game as a touchdown underdog at home for the first time in Russell Wilson’s career. That didn’t stop more bettors from putting money on the Rams than they have on any team in any game all season. I was in the building last year when the Rams spent the better part of 4 hours pistol whipping the Seahawks in their own home and mushroom-stamping the NFC West for the foreseeable future. I expected a beatdown; instead, I got one of the best football games I’ll see all year.
The LA Rams came into this game riding a wave of adoration so wet it’s sickening. And you know what? They deserve every last thirsty drop. In LA’s first four games, they scored TDs on their initial drives three times and hit a short field goal in the fourth. In this one, they got stopped, with Seattle forcing a punt and notching the game’s first micro-win. Sadly, the Seahawks went three-and-out, officially moving their consecutive-games-without-an-opening-drive-TD streak to one billion. The Rams then blocked the ensuing punt and took over deep in Seattle territory. The result from there should have been academic, but it turns out Seattle wasn’t here to just roll over for the champs.
After stuffing Todd Gurley on first and goal, Seattle batted a Jared Goff pass in the air, where it was tipped again by a hurdling Bobby Wagner. That deflection was plucked out of the air by Frank Clark, who beasted his way out to the 30 yard line. A couple slick, modern-day plays racked up first downs before Russell Wilson went Russell Wilson on ‘em.
Escaping pressure to his left at midfield, Wilson shimmied free and tucked the ball, ready to try and run for a first down. That keyed all nearby defenders to pin their ears and charge towards Seattle’s QB. Just before they got there, however, Wilson shoveled the ball forward to a suddenly uncovered Nick Vannett, who ran through 32 yards of chest deep water for a huge first down. From there, it was a whole bunch of Mike Davis until he was lunging into the blue paint for the first score of the game.
The Rams, being the Rams, were rattled by this exactly zero percent. They calmly gave the ball to the best running back in the world over and over and over and over and over again until he returned the favor from two yards out. On Seattle’s next drive, they continued to get small but useful yardage on first and second down until they found themselves facing 3rd & 3 near midfield. Spreading all their receivers out wide, Seattle infuriatingly ran a bunch of two yard outs, giving Wilson a plethora of options to which he could nearly throw a pick six.
The Rams, the Seahawks’ diametric opposite when it comes to offensive philosophy, continued to send players in a million directions both before and after the snap, creating acres of room for their best playmakers. They were on Seattle’s doorstep in a heartbeat and appeared to score another TD when Gurley went cartwheeling into the end zone. Replay, however, showed his forearm hit with the ball not yet in the promised land.
On the next play, Seattle’s defense played of old, swarming LA’s vaunted OL to swarm Gurley at the line of scrimmage and throw him backwards. The Rams took the easy three, kicking back to Seattle with a 10-7 lead. That kickoff tempted fate, giving multiple-Pro-Bowl return man Tyler Lockett a chance. He spirited his way around, under, and through would-be tacklers out to the 50. One first down later, Seattle ran a beautiful play-action, collapsing LA’s DL around the RB and giving Wilson more time in the pocket than all his other career drop backs against the Rams combined. Russ calmly stepped into his throw, touching the toes of God with a high-arcing pass that landed softly in the childlike hands of a wide open Tyler Lockett. Despite Wilson being literally the highest-rated play-action passer in the NFL, Seattle’s been running those plays less frequently than almost any team in the league.
We could argue all day whether you need to run a bunch in order to be effective with play-action passes, and it would all come down to whether you side with intuition* or the numbers**. What’s not up for debate is A) play-action passes are the most effective type of play call in football and 2) the Seahawks need to run more of them. That play put Seattle up 14-10 and just like that, the NFC West was competitive again.
*teams that run more are not more effective at play-action than teams who don’t
**teams that run more are not more effective at play-action than teams who don’t
The Rams would answer, continuing to create wide open receivers on nearly every play, with Goff eventually finding Cooper Kupp on an unguarded crossing route. The only man between Kupp and a Rams lead was
Earl Thomas Tedric Thompson, who, to his credit, took a great angle to meet Kupp at the 2 yard line. Kupp, however, threw a quick little stutter that took Thompson’s aim from center-mass to the back of Kupp’s ankles, allowing the receiver to skip inside the pylon for the go-ahead score.
The Rams do this to everybody, and eventually everybody capitulates. Whether it’s a lack of talent, endurance, scheme, or will, every team LA has played has eventually bent the knee. The Seahawks, however, showed incredible resolve. They worked the ball back down their home field, far enough to let Sebastian Janikowski beefily squib a 52-yard field goal through the uprights. LA’s final drive of the first half ended with a Hail Mary that Thompson picked off, and the teams went to the break tied at 17.
The Rams racked up a staggering 253 yards in the first half, to Seattle’s more human 175. Seattle, though, used superior field position, turnovers, and timely execution to square things up regardless.
We see this lots. An overmatched team hangs tough for a half or so, riding momentum or the collective chip on their shoulder to a competitive score. For a while. But usually, the better team wins because 120+ plays is a large enough sample size for superior skill to establish itself. But the Seahawks were not content to go quietly into that good night. Instead, they started the second half with a determined 9-play, 75-yard drive that culminated with Wilson rolling to his right until preseason darling David Moore got free in the back of the end zone for the go-ahead TD. It was beautiful, really. The OL played terrifically, giving both Wilson and the running backs room to operate and keeping the play-calling on schedule.
The Rams kept ramming though. It’s a hallmark of really good teams, and the Rams are every bit as good as advertised. Their next 64 yards were as easy as most of their first 250 were. The only difference was that this time, there was no redzone stand. Gurley eventually ran untouched into the end zone to tie things up again and put the onus back on Seattle’s offense to keep pace.
At some point, the Seahawks had to give in. Right? This team has treated first downs like 20-yard targets all season, there’s no way they can continue to trade blows with the best team in the world for 60 whole minutes. Right? Well, not so fast. Again the Seahawks hammered Davis and Chris Carson into the legion of superstars making up the Rams defense and again the Rams defense gave way. There are a lot of statistical reasons to believe #bodyblows don’t work in today’s NFL (and I agree!) but there’s no denying that Seattle’s relentlessly successful rushing attack got LA’s secondary creeping up as the game went on. Again the Seahawks used the threat of 5 tough yards to blow the top off the defense, again finding David Moore in the end zone, this time from 30 yards out. 31-24 Seahawks.
Rams. Touchdown. Effortless. Plot twist: they missed the extra point. 31-30.
On Seattle’s next drive, we finally saw what many of us anticipated all game long. The Rams DL dominated, with Ndamukong Such recording two sacks. This gave LA their first chance at a lead in a long time, with ~11 minutes left in this excellent football game. Second plot twist: the Rams used every last timeout they had, at least two of which were directly related to the noise those of you who were at the game created. Salute.
The Rams moved the ball but hit wet cement at Seattle’s 25 and had to settle for a field goal. 33-31. Stage set. We’ve seen it a thousand times since Wilson blessed the Seattle sports scene in 2012. With blows raining down and the ropes leaving indentations in the Seahawks’ back, Russ has pulled the team from the brink of defeat into the warm glow of glory over and again. And here, against odds as steep as he’s faced, Russ stood stoically amid the storm and delivered a perfect deep ball to to Lockett into field goal range. From there, it was just a matter of not fucking up.
After a couple short gains, Germain Ifedi committed a false start. On the ensuing snap, DJ Fluker was called for a hold. Then Wilson threw the ball away on a jailbreak pass rush. A 48-yard field goal attempt was suddenly a 63-yarder, and Seattle chose to punt instead of giving 63-yard-field-goal-maker Janikowski a shot to win it.
Gurley got a first down on LA’s first play, then got (relatively) stopped on the next two. That brought up 3rd and a short two. The Rams gave it to Gurley again, and the OL and DL squared up perfectly. That created a tunnel with Gurley on one side, Tedric Thompson on the other, with the game-clinching first down between them.
Thompson, to his credit, smoked Gurley with a turbocharged shoulder check, stunning the all world RB long enough to let the rest of the defense swallow him up short of the first down and breathing life into the stadium.
4th & 1. Rams on their own 42. Every other head coach in the NFL is punting it away and ensuring they don’t get crucified by their local press corps. Sean McCoy is a different dude though. The dude we should all be so lucky to have. See, the thing is: for all the sexy deception and sultry spacing that McVay and others have used to excellent effect in today’s NFL, the QB sneak stays undefeated.
The game was over the second McVay sent his offense back onto the field. A snap, a lean, a whistle. Ballgame.
Seattle defied every expectation in this game, but they crumbled in the final minutes, committing game-costing penalties in front of their home crowd with the division champs squarely in their crosshairs. It was an honorable effort, no question. Seattle played above my expectations by a standard deviation. They could have won this game. You could easily claim that they should have.
Sadly, the standings care not for woulds or shoulds, and just like that, the Seahawks are 3 games out of first place 5 games into the season.
~Russell Wilson threw a touchdown every 7 pass attempts, against a loaded defense. He completed 63% of his 21 pass attempts for 198 yards for a terrific average of 9.4 yards per. 3 TDs, no turnovers. He maximized his limited opportunities to impact the game, which is the best you can hope for in an offense like this. He’s now completing 62% of his passes (average) on the season at 7.7 yards/ attempt (above average) with 10 TDs (good) against 3 INTs (also good) and a rating of roughly 100 (almost great!).
The thing I have to remember when judging Wilson is that very few of his volume stats will be impressive in Brian Schottenheimer’s offense. For the third straight game, Seattle ran more than they threw and, although I viscerally hate the approach, I can’t deny that they’ve been the Hawks’ three best offensive games by far.
~The offensive line was actually excellent today. In fact, they were as good as I’ve seen in probably years, which is saying something considering who they were playing. They only allowed two sacks and averaged just shy of 6 yards per carry. They won consistently throughout and kept Seattle in positive game scripts all game long. Even the hold on Fluker (arguably the the play that hurt their chances the most, aside from LA’s QB sneak) was questionable. A game like that from them gives this team a chance to beat anyone, which is really saying something. Credit to Mike Solari, and a long-distance thanks for nothing to Tom Cable.
~Brian Schottenheimer. What are you? It still kills me to look around the top tier of the NFL and see dynamic offenses that continually create space for their best players while the Seahawks relentlessly try to win Super Bowl 26. On the other hand, it’s hard to complain about 8 yards per pass and 6 yards per run against one of the league’s better defenses.
I truly believe that today’s performance wins 90% of NFL games, yet I can’t shake the feeling that the result was just good enough to cement the organization into an approach that can’t reliably win in today’s NFL. Here’s to me being wrong about that.
~THAT BEING SAID, no one wants to talk about a significant tension facing Seattle’s future: Russell Wilson is about to demand (and receive) something in the neighborhood of $35M/year. To pay a QB that much money to run this offense is a waste of resources. If you’re gonna let Russ be Russ, and take advantage of his unique skillset by putting him in positions to be constantly dynamic, then he’s worth every penny. If you’re gonna run a scheme that requires your QB to simply manage a game, then move on and save the dough. This team is gonna have to decide what is more important- this offense or this quarterback.
~Doug Baldwin turned one target into one catch for one yard. If you had told me before the game that that would be his line today, I would’ve thrown a G on LA to cover. I would have lost that stack, though, because his slack was more than picked up by Tyler Lockett (3 catches, 98 yards, TD), David Moore (3/38/2), and Mike Davis / Chris Carson (combined 34 touches for 202 yards and a TD). Seattle will likely not have a single Pro Bowler from their offense this year, but they can still be effective if they get this kind of scattered production.
~The defense did what they could, given the circumstances. The offense’s success made the D’s performance look a bit better than it probably was, but they fought against every one of the many yards they gave up. I know I’ve hammered on this point throughout the article but I don’t think we can overstate just how ahead-of-the-curve this Rams offense is. They’ve now scored 30+ in all 5 games this season and are doing it with both a passing and rushing efficiency that any team can be jealous of. First in yards, second in points, familiar as fuck with Seattle’s defense. Oh, and no Earl Thomas.
It should have been a bloodbath. Instead, it was a bloodletting. Make no mistake,. LA killed it today; 9.5 yards per pass, 5.2 yards per rush. And yet, Seattle bowed up near the goal line, forcing a turnover and a massive stop to turn a seeming 14 points into 3. This could have been a blowout. It almost was.
~It has become nearly impossible to overstate how good Bobby Wagner and Bradley McDougald have become. 18 tackles between them, and I can’t adequately describe just how many big plays they prevented today. Wagner is already the best Seahawks linebacker of all time and McDougald would have fit seamlessly into any version of the LOB.
~All eyes were on Tedric Thompson today. All he was asked to do is stand in for the best safety of the last decade (who happened to be the #1 talking point in the NFL this week), against an undefeated offense that will threaten every meaningful record this season. He made mistakes. How could you not? Hew took a couple bad angles, was caught out of place, and missed two big tackles.
But you know what, I thought he played great. Thompson recorded 7 tackles, broke up a pass, and forced Goff off his reads on multiple occasions. He also homicided Brandin Cooks in front of millions of witnesses. The jury is still out on TT, but I was very encouraged by what I saw from him today.
~Frank Clark reportedly lost 12 pounds of health after eating a turkey burgers so wack he couldn’t practice all week. You’d never have guessed it though, cuz dude was everywhere.
~Shaquill Griffin is tremendous. The only reason I haven’t written about him more is because he’s so good I don’t even have to think about him. I need to appreciate him more.
~Last week the Seahawks won on the road going 0/10 on third downs. This week they lost at home going 7/12. Football is weird.
Somehow, I came away from this game feeling better about this team than I did last week. Then again, hard to feel any worse. Today’s game was what I look for from any football game I watch: two teams making great plays and trading scores through the final bell. Sadly, the result effectively eliminates any long shot hope of winning the division and increases the angle the Seahawks have to climb to the postseason.
One thing this game did is convince me to reset my opinion of this team. As you know, I’ve been pretty sour on this squad in 2018 and I believe their cumulative performance has validated that impression. But today they were very good against an excellent team and despite the loss, it made me feel like they could compete against anybody.
I am willing to accept whatever we see from here on out at face value. I would bet on today’s performance against any other team in the NFL, and I guess I’m not sure what else one could ask for. Up next is the bad Raiders in fuckin’ London for some reason. Onward and upward, my friends. Anything but sideways, I guess.
My muses today were a tumbler (or three) of the delicious Oban 14 and the easy-smoking Series-A from Vegas 5.