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Cigar Thoughts, Game 9: Seahawks play great, Rams play greater

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The Seattle Seahawks gave everything they had, losing their second close game of the season to the Los Angeles Rams.

Seattle Seahawks v Los Angeles Rams Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Rams lost their first game of the season last week, affirming their mortality in a 45-35 loss to the New Orleans Saints. But none of that kept the Seattle Seahawks from being big time ‘dogs in LA. The Seahawks were given no chance by virtually anyone outside of their own locker room today; just like last time. In that one, Seattle played their best game of the year to date, coming up only two points shy of pulling off the upset in a dramatic, high-scoring affair. Despite facing one of the highest scoring teams in history, the ‘Hawks hammered the run in that game, part of an approach that’s made Seattle the #1 rushing team (by yards*) since their 0-2 start.

*I point this out because the Seahawks are not the most efficient rushing in team in the league, but they’re the only ones doing it more than 50% of the time.

Surely the Rams knew it would be more of the same this afternoon, and of course it was, as Seattle ran it on 11 of their first 16 plays. The result was two tremendous drives to begin and a staggering 104 rushing yards in the first quarter alone. Seattle handed it off to Mike Davis on the game’s first three plays, netting 17 yards and letting the Rams know they weren’t here to get cute. After a roughing call gave Seattle a first down on a 3rd down incompletion, Lockett took a sweep and spun out of a facemask in the backfield. From there, Seattle’s tiny dancer juked and jived for an 18 yard gain, with 15 yards tacked onto the end of it.

A couple of runs later, Wilson was zipping the ball into a mouse hole at the goal line, where it was snagged by a lunging Nick Vannett for the game’s opening score. After more than two years without an opening-drive TD, Seattle’s now done it in three of their last four. Granted, they were helped greatly by 30 penalty yards but in this life you’re judged not by your opportunities but by what you do with them.

Unfortunately for the ‘Hawks, the Rams are still the Rams. Jared Goff would calmly go 6 for 7 on LA’s first possession, capping it with a short TD toss to Gerald Everett. The whole drive looked like a summertime 7-on-7 drill, with Goff standing unencumbered in the pocket, casually finding open receivers underneath Seattle defenders.

No matter. The Seahawks’ next drive was even sharper than their first, covering 75 yards in just five plays. Davis for 5 followed by Doug Baldwin for 6. On the next play, it was Rashaad Penny(!) for 38 yards on a nifty couple of jukes and impressive pull-away speed. Then Lockett for 8 more before another draw play to Penny from the 18. On this one, Seattle’s first-round pick let his blockers get out in front of him then steered them like a dogsled until he cruised into the paint for his first career teeder.

At this point, it looked like Brian Schottenheimer’s offense was gonna be capable of just about anything. Sadly, Seattle was only able to net another 28 yards on their final three drives of the half, including a putrid attempt at a two-minute drill at the end of the half in which they looked like a pack of toddlers during a fire drill. Meanwhile, the Rams kept ramming, hammering ahead with Todd Gurley and complimenting him with confident passes to slippery receivers. The results of their last three first half drives? 173 yards and 10 points, including a toss sweep to Gurley who followed a phalanx of blockers to pay dirt.

An early third quarter field goal gave Los Angeles a 20-14 lead and it was beginning to look like a poker game where the chip leader just continues to lean on an less-assetted opponent. Fortunately for Seattle, the Rams most recent addition, Dante Fowler Jr, apparently just loves to commit personal fouls. After another 3rd down incompletion, Fowler got baited into some detention-worthy fisticuffs by Germain Ifedi, drawing a flag and extending Seattle's drive. The Seahawks made the most of it, using a couple more great runs from Penny to move the ball to LA’s 23.

From there, Wilson dropped back and looked to his right. Without ever progressing off that first read, Wilson delivered the ball as confidently as he would have if it was Julio Jones on the other end. In this case however, his target was Lockett, the diminutive dandy. The pass arced upward, reached its apex, turned its nose down, and dive-bombed towards the back of the end zone. That’s when Lockett, who was well covered, expertly hand-fought the corner for a whisper of space before corralling the ball for the diving go-ahead score.

The offensive development that’s spilled the most ink this season is the success of Seattle’s O-line and run game, but perhaps the most important has been Tyler Lockett’s ability to function as a #1 WR in a low-volume offense. Just 5 catches and 67 yards (plus the 18-yard run) for the recently extended receiver, but they were all so damn useful.

That TD happened with only 20 minutes left in the game but hoo boy, we were just getting started. The Rams answered, as they often do, with another long drive, chipping 8 yards off at a time. After nine of those, they were back in the end zone with a 26-21 lead. They attempted a two-point conversion to go up by a touchdown but the Seahawks finally stuffed Gurley in the backfield, keeping the lead to 5.

Seattle’s next possession was also nine plays, this time getting 60 yards. To their chagrin, it ended on 3rd & Goal, when the unholy duo of Ndamukong Such and Aaron Donald collapsed the pocket and smothered Wilson in the backfield. Janikowski banged home the short field goal to make it 26-24 then inexplicably banged an onside kick directly into the waiting arms of a Rams up-man. I’m not gonna spend anymore time on that silliness than I have to cuz I just, I mean. You guys.

The Rams leveraged the gift-wrapped field position into another field goal and Seattle got the ball back down just 5 with half the 4th quarter left to play. Wilson would scramble for 3, hand it off to Penny for 4, then take a drop back on 3rd & 3. Now, I certainly don’t mind passing in that situation but the well-laid plans were incinerated the moment Fowler slapped Duane Brown’s hands to his knees and scooted by him en route to Seattle’s QB.

Russ didn’t feel the pressure and, to be fair, it came from as a blind a spot as a QB can have. As he started his throwing motion, Fowler hacked his wrist and forced the ball free. After a wild scramble, LA recovered and one play later they were dancing in the end zone on the heels of a Brandin Cooks jet sweep. That TD pushed the score out to 36-24 all of a sudden the Seahawks were on the verge of getting blown out of a game they played very well in.

A lesser team would have crumbled, and frankly it would’ve been understandable if they did. Not acceptable, necessarily, but it would’ve made sense to finally have the legs give out after trading blows with arguably the most talented team in the world for three and a half quarters. That ain’t this team though.

Seattle’s next drive was as determined and methodical as any all season. It lasted 12 plays, covered 90 yards, and featured three enormously important Wilson scrambles. It ate up a ton of clock, but I’m not the type to complain about touchdown drives against the division leader with the game in the balance. It culminated with a very Rams-esque play call, where Wilson faked a sweep to Lockett then flipped it underneath to Davis for the touchdown. The score made it 36-31 and put Seattle’s defense in an almost identical position as the first showdown.

In that game, Seattle also had 31 points but was unable to force the three and out necessary to get the ball back at the end. This time was different. After a huge stop for a loss on a Robert Woods handoff, and aided by an LA penalty, Seattle forced the much-needed punt and got the ball back with an 80-second shot at glory.

Seattle’s would-be victory march started promisingly enough. Well, not on the first play, but after that. On that initial snap, Wilson attempted to flee a collapsing pocket and, upon realizing he wasn’t gonna, flipped the ball to absolutely no one. It appeared to be ruled a fumble and Aaron Donald scooped it up for what would’ve been the game-clinching turnover. After scampering out of bounds, JR Sweezy knocked him to the ground, prompting the best defensive player in the league to throw him into a headlock. That led to offsetting penalties and, in the surprising absence of an intentional grounding flag, 2nd & 10.

The next play was an assertive dime over the middle to Lockett for 29 yards, followed by an 11-yard Wilson scramble. After a spike, Seattle had 31 seconds and 35 yards left. This was when the Rams DL, who had been great all game, found another gear. They forced a deep throwaway on 2nd down, then harassed Russ into a rushed incompletion towards Vannett. That brought up 4th down, and three hours of blood and pain came down to one play.

On that most important of plays, Wilson took the snap and stepped up in the pocket, scanning the defense as the rush closed in. Finding nothing, and with Rams linemen mere feet away and crashing hard, Wilson skipped out of trouble and ran forward to his left. At this point, the field was clear in front of him, but only for about 10 yards. With that many to go, Wilson was forced into a decision that carried with it today’s fortunes of two teams of highly-trained professionals. Run it, and count on juking two tacklers to keep the game alive, likely needing a hurried spike immediately after? Or somehow try and fit a pass over the sinking cornerback and into the hands of Tyler Lockett? Neither choice was obviously correct, and neither action was easy to pull off. Wilson chose the latter, and his sprinting throw sailed too high for his new favorite receiver. It was the only pass to Lockett that wasn’t completed today, and it sealed the season sweep for the Rams.

SMOKE RINGS

~Russell Wilson only threw the ball 11 times in the first three quarters, while Seattle ran it 26 times over the same period. It wasn't until the 4th quarter, and prompted by necessity, that Wilson began to wing it around the way that I personally wish he would more often. The final quarter saw him throw it 15 times, completing 9 of them for 97 yards and a TD.

As is normally the case with the best QB in franchise history, Wilson was extremely efficient regardless of the circumstances, and he turned 26 attempts into 176 yards, 3 TDs, no INTs, and a sterling rating of 123.2. I personally would like to see Seattle pass more but it’s tough to make the case that this was the game for it, as the Seahawks averaged 7.4 yards on designed runs (not counting scrambles) and 7.6 on designed passes (including scrambles).

About those scrambles. thank god they’re back. This team is so much better when Wilson is free to run and he rewarded that liberty with a phenomenal 92 yards on 9 carries. He extended multiple drives with his legs and created open receivers with the mere threat of the run on half a dozen other plays. All told, Wilson had the outcome of the play in his hands 39 times and turned them into 233 yards, and that includes 4 sacks for 35 yards. Add that to 181 yards on designed runs and you’ve got one hell of an offense.

~Chris Carson’s absence did nothing to dissuade Seattle from their offensive game plan, as the Seahawks ran the ball 34 times vs only 26 passes. By design, it was 26 runs vs 34 passes, but that line was heavily skewed by the late game script. Both Davis and Penny were extensively employed, with Davis turning 11 carries into an effective 58 yards and Penny translating his 12 rushes into an eye-opening 108 and the TD. Davis did add 4 catches for 22 yards and a TD in what was a very good performance but while both RBs are fully serviceable in this offense, one of them has an elevator that goes a few floors higher.

~Tyler Lockett continues to defy every expectation you’d have by looking at him. He now has 7 receiving TDs on the year, which incredibly ranks 4th in the NFL despite him barely cracking the top 100 in targets.

~The Seahawks have been among the league leaders in most defensive categories this season but a bitter truth to acknowledge for many is that in today’s NFL, offensive ingenuity / execution will beat the same from a defense more often than not. Today’s game was a perfect example, as the Rams rode their fearless, futuristic O to gargantuan numbers, just like they have all year. 456 yards on 64 plays. Goff averaged ~8 yards per attempt and Gurley had almost the same per rush. There’s no doubt that both players are very talented, but they also benefit immeasurably from a system that’s an evolutionary step ahead of Seattle’s. There were a number of terrific individual plays from Seattle defenders, but the relentless aggression and non-stop play-action (literally almost every single Rams pass this season has come off of play-action- it’s insane / beautiful) simply created too much space to keep up with.

~Despite #establishingtherun, the Seahawks still only went 2 for 9 on third down. The Rams, for their part, went 5 for 10. It wasn’t the difference but it wasn’t nothing either.

Two weeks ago, the Seahawks were 4-3 and a dark horse contender in the NFC. Now, they’re 4-5 and 10th in their own conference and facing an uphill journey to the postseason. The whole conference is as muddled as a mojito, so a strong finish could still propel the ‘Hawks to the ‘yoffs, but today’s outcome certainly didn’t make things any easier.

As a result, Seattle’s next game carries outsized importance, as the 4-4-1 Packers come to town for a Thursday night matchup. If Seattle loses, their once shining postseason hopes will be reduced to a faint flicker. A win, however, launches the Seahawks right back onto the shortlist with six games to go. Onward, upward.

Jacson on Twitter | Cigar Thoughts Hub | Cigar Thoughts Facebook

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The 2018 season of Cigar Thoughts is proud to be sponsored by Fairhaven Floors and Brandon Nelson Partners.

This article was complimented by a stiff pour of Eagle Rare and a delicious My Father Le Bijou 1922. Guys, I might have a new favorite.