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Cigar Thoughts, Game 9: Rams blow Seahawks out in one-score win

The Los Angeles Rams outplayed the Seattle Seahawks in every phase of the game, winning 23-16 in a massive NFC West battle.

Seattle Seahawks v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Maybe the only thing I hate more than Cardinals week is Rams week. Since Sean McVay arrived in 2017, the Rams have owned the Seahawks’ number, with Seattle winning two squeakers by a combined 7 points and Los Angeles winning the other four by 66. Every time they’ve played over the last three years it’s felt like one roster (and coaching staff?) is dramatically superior to the other from both talent and scheme standpoints, with the inferior team’s hopes pinned stubbornly to the abilities of an all-world quarterback.

The Seahawks also came into this game absolutely annihilated from a health standpoint, missing their “top” two cornerbacks, top two running backs, and nearly a half-dozen lineman on top of the early season losses. Adding that to the fact that the Rams, while slipping back to the pack on offense, have maybe the most complete defense in the NFL, had me feeling a bit queasy coming in. Ah who am I kidding? I’m almost always queasy before Seahawks games— the Rams just push the bile a little further up the esophagus.

When the game started, it was Los Angeles’ offense that took the field first— and their opening drive looked like so many others against Seattle this year. With receivers running wide open, and running backs following pulling guards that eliminated tacklers, the Rams worked the ball down the field with ease. It was like watching the varsity scrimmage against the JV, except that it’s not like the Rams offense is meaningfully bigger or faster than the Seahawks defense— just a lot better, ya know?

Ultimately, the Rams would sputter inside the Seahawks 10 and settle for a field goal to go up 3-0, but nothing about it felt encouraging. LA had covered 70 yards in 10 plays with almost no friction at all. And when the defense is as permissive as Seattle’s is, it feels like the offense has to score on every drive in order to have a chance.

The good news is that’s exactly what they did on their first possession. After an Alex Collins run and a David Moore catch set up 3rd & 1, Russell Wilson faked a handoff and very nearly airmailed a wide open Greg Olsen. Luckily for Russ, the Entish TE reached his creaky branches up in time to snag the pass for 22 yards and a first down. That was followed by a check down to a forgotten-about Freddie Swain in the left flat for 21 more. A Collins run and a Swain catch later, it was Collins again— this time on a toss sweep to the left with Duane Brown out in front bucking defenders like the rhino in Donkey Kong. Collins glided through the rubble Brown left in his wake and scooted in for the go-ahead score. It was the last time I was happy.

The Rams scored a touchdown on their next drive with ease that somehow surpassed that of their first drive. It included three completions on three attempts for 69 yards to their two tight ends, which shouldn’t be too surprising given the mind-bending 14+ yards/attempt Seattle has allowed to TEs this year. The drive was capped by a hurry-up handoff to Darrell Henderson Jr that made it 10-7 while the Seahawks were still milling around on “defense”.

Seattle’s following possession showed promise, with them working the ball across midfield on a 9-play effort that peaked with a 1st & 10 on Los Angeles’ 44. From there, however, it was a deep incompletion towards Tyler Lockett, a baffling intentional grounding by Wilson that knocked them back into their own territory, and a meaningless 9-yard scramble that forced a punt. The grounding penalty was the first of a series of judicial lapses Wilson suffered today, and it eliminated any hope of a score.

The ensuing punt was downed at LA’s 7 but it didn’t matter. This time it took 13 plays for the Rams to score, with each one of them feeling like a quarter-turn from a screwdriver jammed in your ear. Runs, passes, 1st down, 3rd down... it didn’t matter. The Rams converted every play call with ease, taking every bit of what was there without ever pressing for more. First down after first down after first down, converting all three 3rds including a 7-yard TD run from Malcolm Brown to make it 17-7.

Now the Seahawks, to their credit, bounced back with a 6-play, 50-yard drive of their own, the bulk of which was owed to some sly play-calling from Brian Schottenheimer. After a quick completion to Lockett, Wilson handed the ball off to Collins who took a step forward with the ball before pitching it back to Wilson. Seattle’s QB didn’t have much time after that, but he didn’t need it because while all of that was transpiring, Lockett had snuck out of the gaggle and slipped into the left flat. Russ flicked the ball out to Tyler and the cute lil fella scampered up field for 39. The drive sputtered after that but the gain was enough to give Seattle’s best player, Jason Myers, the opportunity to bang a 37-yarder through the uprights to make it 17-10.

On the next drive, something magical happened— the Seahawks generated some pressure. It came when they blitzed Jamal Adams off the edge and, as he beat his man and streaked towards the quarterback, Jared Goff reached back to pass. As he did, Adams slapped the ball free, where it was pounced upon by DJ Reed. The much-needed turnover put the ‘Hawks on LA’s 27 with a chance to tie the game before the half.

After a 5-yard gain further entrenched Seattle into at-least-FG range, Wilson took a shotgun snap and drifted to his right, ready to make his worst play of the season. The defense had all collapsed to his left, and the field opened in front of him like Scott Stapp’s arms. Instead of running freely into that bedazzled embrace, with a guaranteed first down (or more) waiting, Wilson instead chose to throw it all the way across his body and the field towards Will Dissly in the endzone. The pass hung up in the air from whence CB Darious Williams easily plucked it for the interception.

Now, Russell Wilson has made a number of regrettable plays over the last few weeks, and while every QB makes mistakes from time to time, this was one of the most destructive plays of his career. The decision was horrendous for a number of reasons. Besides the obvious, unfettered run for a first down (there was literally only one defender between him and the endzone), there was no situational rush to score, as the clock showed 1:00 at the time of the snap. At the time, Seattle was only down by 7 and in a game where every scoring opportunity felt monumental, the preservation of one was paramount. I just don’t know why Wilson felt the need to press there. And while I know Olsen was technically open when Wilson spied him, Russ knows better than to give away the guaranteed for the ambitious in that moment.

The interception was a heavy kick to the balls with the toes pointed straight up. I truly believe that the Seahawks could’ve (would’ve?) won the game had it not been for that devastating pick, but alas. Incredibly, the defense would force a punt on the Rams’ ensuing possession, and the offense managed to scrape out enough yards to let Myers try a hilarious 61-yard FG attempt. The effort was a pipe dream, a why-not? prayer at the end of a disappointing half, but Jason Myers’s spirit is stronger than our doubt. He swung his gilded foot through the ball and launched it end-over-end 61.01 yards through the air, grazing the crossbar’s gooch on its way through to make it 17-13 at the half.

The game’s final two quarters kinda sucked, to be honest, and not just because the Seahawks lost. From a pure football standpoint, it was mostly mundane drudgery nearly devoid of highlights.

The first drive of second half was Bad Pete’s time to shine. After Collins and Wilson traded 3-yard runs, Wilson’s 3rd down scramble was marked a foot short at their own 40. It seemed fairly clear that Russ didn’t make it, but that didn’t stop Carroll from using one of his challenges on a call that is almost never reversed. After review confirmed what we all already knew, and cost Seattle a timeout in the process, Pete then sent his offense out to do the ultra-lame pretend-to-snap-it play before taking the delay of game penalty and punting. And just like last year, when Carroll made a similar decision against Baltimore, the move seemed to suck all the oomph out of the team. Ugh.

Look, if you want to make the case that they shouldn’t have gone for it, that’s fine— but burning the timeout to do it? Gross. And honestly, playing for field position with this offense and this defense is simply asinine. So the Seahawks end up kicking it away— and even pin the Rams sorta deep in their own territory— but it just didn’t matter. The Rams answered with the most foregone touchdown drive imaginable, an outcome whose misery was exacerbated by the outright length of it. 14 plays, 88 yards, 6:45 off the clock. Just all-around shittery from the top on down, with the only hint of joy coming from Kai Forbath missing the extra point. 23-13.

So what was the Seahawks answer to that latest round of self-induced adversity? How’s two sacks and an almost-sack before punting on 3rd & 26 sound? Now the funny thing about this is from that point on, the Seattle defense was actually pretty good. It was too late to matter, but nice to see nonetheless.

After forcing a punt on LA’s next drive, the door was open for the ‘Hawks to make a move. They manufactured a quick pass to DK Metcalf (his first target of the game), and after working out another first down, Wilson finally got his chance. Granted a rare modicum of time in the pocket, he looked left to see that Metcalf had gained a step off separation on Ramsey. Wilson heaved the ball down the sideline but it was a touch too far, glancing off Metcalf’s outstretched fingers. It was their opportunity to turn this game around, and one that we’ve gotten very used to seeing them convert, but like so many other plays in this game, they were just a degree off.

As tough as it was to see them miss that one, it got immediately worse from there. The next snap was at Wilson’s shoe tops, and he was unable to corral it. The unforced fumble was recovered by LA and their 10-point lead remained intact.

And so it would stay for the rest of the game. Yes, there was technically still plenty of meaningful football to be played but none of it felt that way. Seattle would hold the Rams without a score for the rest of the game, but the last flicker of hope was snuffed out by a stare-down interception from Russ on a 3rd & 9 midway through the 4th. Myers would knock home one more field goal before the game ended, bringing the Seahawks within a touchdown and creating the illusion of a competitive game— but we all know better.

SMOKE RINGS

~Russell Wilson’s head-scratching month continues. Y’all remember a few years ago when he had that real jittery stretch? Where he’d tuck the ball without pressure, pull off his reads early, and force throws into coverages he’d normally look off. Well that guy is back, apparently, and it resulted in his worst performance all season.

Setting aside for a moment his inexplicable first interception, he seemed unready for the consistent pressures and was rattled to the point that he regularly stared down and threw to his first read. With the Rams satisfied to sit in zone and blitz from multiple angles, Wilson had to be decisive and precise (precisive?). Instead, he was neither, playing more like a wide-eyed rookie than an MVP contender on a first place team. Even a number of his completions were at least slightly off-target, and the end result was the worst stat line of his season: 22/37, 248 yards, 0 TDs, 2 INTs, 6 sacks, and a lost fumble.

~Much was made of the potential showdown between DK Metcalf and Jalen Ramsey today and folks, there’s just no other way to put it: DK got his ass kicked. Ramsey spent the whole afternoon running Metcalf’s routes for him, flustering the young receiver to the point that Wilson basically stopped looking his way. Just an absolute drubbing.

That said, there were a few routes where he appeared to get open but Wilson didn’t see him either because he wasn’t early enough in the progression or pressure kept Russ from delivering. Either way, DK was hopping mad about it. And the offense didn’t do anything to try and make life easier for him either.

Outside of one quick stick route in the 4th quarter, they never found ways to get the ball into Metcalf’s hands, relying instead on him beating elite coverage on long-developing routes while their QB was absolutely terrorized. No screens, barely any slot lineups, and now that I think about it, I’m not sure they sent DK in motion a single time all night. The offense lacked a lot of creativity in general but this was probably the most maddening aspect. Metcalf finished with two catches for 28 yards but I truly believe that a better version of Russ could’ve had those numbers looking a lot more impressive. Still, give Ramsey his flowers— that boy good.

~Much like the Cardinals game a few weeks ago, Metcalf’s erasure required Tyler Lockett to step up. And, to his credit, he did— at least relative to the rest of the team— but it wasn’t nearly enough. Lockett served mostly as a safety valve, as the Rams were content to just sit on Seattle’s timing routes. Lockett was targeted 9 times, converting 5 of them into catches for 66 yards— all of which led the team.

Lockett had those two monstrous games earlier this year but has sort of just pedaled along otherwise. His season-long numbers are very impressive (he came in on pace for 104 catches, 1,224 yards, and 14 TDs) but he’s not changing games with the regularity we’ve become used to. This is not meant as a knock on Lockett because you’re never gonna catch me complaining about this type of production, but it just doesn’t feel like he’s been as good as those numbers. At least to me.

~The rest of the receiving production didn't impact the outcome much. With Metcalf and Lockett combining for just 7 catches, the rest of the work was spread around evenly, with the rookie Swain leading the pack at 3 grabs for 37 yards.

~Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde missed this game again but I don’t think it would have altered much if they were present. Alex Collins handled the majority of the work and was fine, carrying the ball 11 times for 43 yards and a TD but it’s not like they lost because of anything he did or didn’t do. DeeJay Dallas got 2 carries and 2 catches for 36 total yards while Travis Homer snagged 3 balls for 19 of his own. Not much else to say about Seattle’s backup RB casserole today.

~We always knew, even back during the peak of the LOB regime, that Seattle’s defense wouldn’t be that good forever. That they eventually slid back was not a surprise. What is stunning, however, is the sheer cataclysmic volume of their current suckitude. They went from maybe the best era-adjusted defense in a modern NFL history to a pretty good one, to one of the most toothless units the game has seen.

Can’t rush, can’t cover, can’t tackle... it legit looks like they’re playing with 9 men on the field. It’s wild; I’ve gone from feeling like every opposing offense was playing uphill to being mildly shocked whenever other teams don’t convert a third down or finish a drive with a score. At this point, the only question is “how long did it take them?”

The entire first half was just more of that, with LA scoring on their opening three drives without even getting their heart rate up. Turns out the combination of zero pass rush and zero coverage doesn’t work out very well in the NFL. Still, the second half was a pretty good effort. No, actually, it was an excellent effort. They only allowed 6 points on LA’s final 7 possessions and I can’t believe it didn’t matter.

~The Seahawks did pretty much everything poorly today. they were out-schemed on offense and defense, had little-to-no awareness of the play-clock, got caught in the middle of substitutions multiple times, were passive when they should have been aggressive, stayed unimaginative on offense, wasted what few opportunities they were given, and got absolutely obliterated on 3rd downs.

To follow up last week’s effort with one like this is just so disappointing. One thing you can almost always count on with this team is their ability to bounce back from a poor performance, doing enough to overcome the challenges that a short spate of poor play has created. That version never showed up today. And look, it’s worth noting that both Buffalo and LA are good teams, but you’re not gonna win anything meaningful without beating good teams so clearly something needs to change.

Russell Wilson is gonna have off games, and the mark of a good team is to do things on the periphery to help blunt the damage of mistakes elsewhere. Instead of being dynamic, prescient, and in-sync the Seahawks were reactive, slow, and seemed generally unprepared. Just a disheartening performance all around.

During the writing of this article, the Arizona Cardinals pulled off a magical last-gasp win, salting the wounds created by the Seahawks’ loss to the Rams. With today’s results, the Seahawks are now tied with both LA and Arizona for first in the NFC West at 6-3, but have lost the head-to-head against each. It wasn’t that long ago that Seattle found themselves in the catbird’s seat in the NFC but as of this writing, they sit in 7th, clinging to the final playoff spot.

I can’t believe this team has to turn around and play the Cardinals in just four days but something tells me this stupid team is gonna find a way to win that game. If they don’t, the expectations of this season need to be altered considerably downward. If the Seahawks do win, however, they enter a stretch of four straight games against bad teams at 7-3, with a chance to emerge from that run in very, very good position.

Today sucked, and the Seahawks of the last month generally have too. The good news is that an excellent season is still very much within reach, and this team is still good enough to achieve even the loftiest goals we have for them. Every team that’s ever accomplished anything meaningful did so on the other side of adversity, and Seattle finds themselves neck deep in the middle of theirs. There is still a path to the mountaintop for this team, but it’s becoming increasingly overgrown.

We’ll know a lot more about this team’s trajectory after Thursday night’s game. Until then, they’ll need to lick their wounds and get their heads right. Onward and upward, my friends.

Jacson on Twitter | Cigar Thoughts Hub | Cigar Thoughts Facebook

———

It was a shame to waste a cigar as good as Davidoff’s Geneve Grand Cru No. 3 on a game as bad as this one, but at least it provided a bright spot to an otherwise very droopy day of football. I paired it with a spritely pour of Nashville Barrel’s Straight Rye Whiskey for a combination that was much better than today’s gridiron outcomes.

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The 2020 season of Cigar Thoughts is also proud to be sponsored by Fairhaven Floors and Brandon Nelson Partners in Bellingham, WA.