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Cigar Thoughts, Wild Card: Seahawks show up woefully unprepared for biggest game of the season

The Los Angeles Rams smothered the Seattle Seahawks, winning 30-20 to end Seattle’s season.

Wild Card Round - Los Angeles Rams v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

This team is so much better than what they showed today. I want to get that out of the way first. Full stop.

/deep breath

That said... what we saw today was a shameful effort from a team that had real, legitimate championship aspirations.

The Seahawks came into this tied for the best record in the NFL over the last 7 games (6-1). They’ve allowed the fewest points in the league over that stretch and recorded the most sacks. Their offense features two 1,000-yard receivers, one of the best RBs in the game, and a top-5 QB. Their defense is healthy, they have their entire OL healthy for the first time in forever, and they’re at home against a team they just beat that started some guy named John Wolford at QB.

Everything lined up for an easy Seattle victory today, which we all knew meant this would still result in an eye-gouging experience. It has been in nearly every playoff game for the last seven years. And that’s not to say that playoff wins should be easy— certainly not; but they also shouldn’t consistently be down-by-three-scores-late affairs. Not with teams that are averaging nearly 11 wins per season.

I just deleted about 1,000 words of recap because honestly, I simply don’t want to spend my time on this article with a blow-by-blow. Y’all saw what happened and with the barren stretch of offseason ahead of us, you don’t need a granular reliving of the plays. There were a number of standout plays, and I’ll dive in on those, but this game was far more thematic than it was sequential. Consider the rest of this piece a giant Smoke Rings segment.

The first seminal moment of the game came on the Rams’ second drive when, after nine effective plays that featured aggressive runs from Cam Akers and opportunistic throws from Wolford, disaster struck for the game’s most prominent storyline. Taking a dropback on 1st & 10 inside the red zone, Wolford couldn’t find anyone open and tucked the ball to run. With nothing available on the ground either, Wolford dove towards the line of scrimmage where he was met by a simultaneously diving Jamal Adams, the latter of which compressed the former’s head with an explosive shoulder to the crown of the helmet. The hit sent Wolford to the hospital and forced a nine-fingered Jared Goff into the game. Seattle would snuff out the drive, but I have to give Goff credit for gutting out the final three-and-a-half quarters with a busted thumb on his throwing hand.

The next turning point came with LA up 6-3. DK Metcalf, who has become my favorite person in the world football player, threw a fit on the sideline after having his first target knocked free early in the second quarter. He slammed his helmet, pouted, and had to be consoled by Russell Wilson, Pete Carroll, and the entire WR corps.

The team’s answer was to try and appease him by giving him a quick screen pass to the left, but Darious Williams made one of the best plays you’ll see from a defensive back. He was supposed to be blocked by Freddie Swain but he jumped the play like he knew what was coming, blowing past Swain and picking off Wilson’s fastball with a full head of steam and cruising into the endzone to make it 13-3. The fact that the entire Rams sideline started celebrating as soon as Wilson lined up the pass was the first inclination that Seattle was wholly out-prepared in this one.

Look, everyone is catching bullets in this article, and right now it’s DK’s time. I love him so much and am so excited about his future. I literally couldn’t be happier that he’s going to spend his potentially HOF career as a member of my favorite team and his incredible talent, work ethic, and energy buys him a lot of leeway. However, the concern with any great WR is the diva potential, and watching him slam his helmet and bitch on the sideline at the very least awakened those fears.

I’m not saying the pick-six was Metcalf’s fault— not at all— but I am saying I have a hard time believing they run (read: telegraph) that play in that moment had he not huffed and puffed after the previous drive. Even so, I’m not gonna bury a guy, especially one that just turned 23, for being upset in that moment—especially with 1st ballot Hall of Fame player / shit-talker Jalen Ramsey in his ear on every snap. I will forgive ANY player for moments of frustration on one of the biggest stages in sports, with millions of people (myself included) unhealthily invested in the outcome of your performance. I can’t imagine having all you bums living and dying with my performance in my career, and I’m 37.

What I do care about is how someone responds to bad situations, because we all have them, and DK responded with his best game in three months. In fact, the next noteworthy play was authored by the gorgeous, affable DeKaylin, and it came on the very next drive. Russell Wilson (who will get his, don’t worry), found himself under siege for the every-th play of the game. For the last two (going on three?) months, Russ has responded to pressure with an uncharacteristic tightness that seems to border on panic. This time, however, he escaped to the left and launched a pass deep towards Metcalf that DK, who had snuck behind the secondary, coasted under for a 51-yard TD to make it 13-10.

It was a play that required a few things, all of which were good: A) remarkable mobility from Wilson, 2) Metcalf understanding the situation and turning upfield— a move that required tremendous trust in his QB’s arm talent, and d) a ridiculous throw from a right-handed quarterback running to his left. When the play was over, we all felt, for the first time all day, like our boys had a chance.

It wasn’t the last we’d see of Metcalf in this one either. On a day where the whole passing game was a giant unwashed chode, DK put up big numbers. He finished with 5 catches for 96 yards and 2 TDs. That means he had 45% of the receptions, 55% of the receiving yards, and 100% of the TDs. He did his job. In three career playoff games, he now has 19 catches for 314 yards and 3 TDs. That’s an average line of 6-105-1. He’s 23.

Unfortunately, the very next drive highlighted another major deficiency that Seattle had to deal with today. Facing 3rd & 9 and only up by 3 with a QB that was having trouble gripping the ball, Seattle forced Goff off his spot. It looked certain that they’d be forcing a punt when Goff dumped it off to Akers well short of the sticks, but the closest defender was Adams and he only had one arm. Spoiler alert: you ain’t tackling Cam Akers with one arm. LA’s sensational rookie easily shrugged off Adams’ attempt at a takedown and somehow stayed in bounds down the left sideline, sprinting for 44 yards and setting up his own TD right before the half a few plays later.

I love Jamal Adams. Love him. Glad we made the trade for him that we did, and earnestly hope they sign him to a lucrative extension. I think he’s got the exact combination of enthusiasm and ability that this team thrives on.

He gutted through a serious shoulder injury to try and contribute in the biggest game of his young career and made a few really big plays, including a couple of nice tackles and a big pass break-up on Cooper Kupp. That being said, he missed a bunch of opportunities due to his injury. There were a number of tackles he missed that he’d normally make, and he whiffed on a deep pass to Kupp because he could only swipe with one arm. I’m not ready to say that the team was worse with him on the field today, but I’m not not ready to say that— which is a bummer.

There was also a stretch in this game that saw six straight punts, and that’s not just because one QB had a broken hand and the other one played like it. These were the two best defenses in the NFL over the last half of the season and they both played out of their minds.

The Rams, for all of their success with some big runs, got shut the fuck down on short yardage situations and most of that had to do with one Bobby Wagner. I have nothing detrimental to say about the way Wagner played today. He was the best football player in the stadium in this one, making a plethora of huge plays en route to a season-high 16 tackles. He was unblockable, and didn’t miss a single opportunity to make a tackle. He played with the gravitational pull of a sun, drawing ballcarriers to him with galactic force and incinerating them on impact.

Wagner deserved better than what he got today. A 1st Team All Pro effort from a guy who made 1st Team All Pro for the sixth time in seven years. There is no one better at playing inside linebacker than Bobby Wagner, and he turned in one of the best games of his career today. There was one moment, right after the punt return fumble (more on that shortly), where the camera zoomed in on him. This was in the fourth quarter, right after he had forced a punt with a heroic tackle on 3rd & short, and had to go back out to lead another stop. The lens showed him breathing so heavily his pads rattled, eyes as big as Frisbees, shouting out instructions to his weary fellow defenders.

I don’t spend a lot of time trying to parse the nuances of players’ body language, but in this moment you saw a range of emotions as visible and heart-wrenching as Diane Lane’s legendary subway scene in Unfaithful. He came out of the huddle looking desperate to the point of defeated, nearly broken by his offense’s failures. Then you saw him rally internally, only to have his gusto beaten back by overwhelming fatigue. That, in turn, morphed back into the laser-focus we’re accustomed to, as he barked orders and readied himself to defend against yet another back-to-the-wall surge. I would die for Bobby Wagner.

While I’m at it, Carlos Dunlap and Jarran Reed were incredible today. Like Adams, Dunlap talked a lot this week about how much this game meant to him, coming from a dysfunctional organization to one with a real chance of making a postseason run. And he played like it. He was relentless in this one, consistently providing pressure and breaking up two passes. Reed, for his part, dominated. He was an absolute force in the middle, and came away from this one with 2 sacks and 3 TFLs among his 5 tackles. Monster.

Hell, the whole D-line was pretty good today. Against an good OL that got a consistent push off the line of scrimmage, they coalesced in almost every big moment, coming up with a bunch of stops on 3rd-and-4th & short in a game that forced them into a lot of those situations. Behind them, Jordyn Brooks continued his ascension with 8 more tackles, drafting off his sensei Wagner to keep things from being a lot worse than they ended up being.

The secondary was mostly good today, too. Shaquill Griffin was generally avoided, much as he has been for the last few weeks. His coverage has been tremendous, forcing opposing QBs to throw left or middle by way of taking away the right third of the field. Quandre Diggs provided consistent coverage over the top and delivered his weekly allotment of two big hits in the center of the gridiron.

That leads us to DJ Reed, who had WAY too much impact on this game relative to his role. A lot of it was good; he broke up a couple passes and had a monstrous 58-yard kickoff return to set up a field goal at the advent of the second half. He was also forced back into a CB2 role after an early Tre Flowers injury, got beat at least three times, and coughed up a spine-shattering fumble on a punt return with less than three minutes left in the game, down by two scores. Like I said, just way too much impact for a player of his caliber.

Let’s pivot back to the offense, if we can even call it that. I was so excited to have the (presumably) best version of our OL ready for this game because we needed it. One thing that cannot be overlooked in this sea of criticism is the fact that the Rams have the best defense in the NFL. They allowed the fewest points, fewest yards, and might legitimately have the two best defenders on the planet in Ramsey and Aaron Donald. They are awesome. Seattle still should have beaten them.

All game long, they attempted to block Donald with only one man, which is like trying to stop a Formula 1 car with a bedsheet. Donald dominated all afternoon, until he dominated so hard that he broke his own sternum with Russell Wilson’s ass. Refusing to adjust to a defender that has averaged an entire sack per game against Wilson in his career is unforgivable but I’d at least understand if it meant shutting down the only player to somehow have even more success against this team than Donald. Instead Leonard Floyd, who came into this with a stunning 5 sacks in the two prior meetings, recorded two more today. The OL was completely overmatched today, but none more so than Ethan Pocic, whose best play was a holding penalty that saved yet another sack. I know it’s a tall order against this defense, and I know that the athleticism of the average D-lineman outsizes that of the average O-lineman, but Wilson was on his heels all game long. The fact that no adjustments were made stings.

So lets talk about that. I’ve withheld declarative statements about Brian Schottenheimer for the most part— mostly because of our limitations re: knowledge of how that whole sequence works. That said, the inability to correct an offense with historic output potential (as evidenced by the first five weeks of the season) as defenses adjusted has to fall on someone. How you have a QB with objectively one of the best first 10 years in NFL history go from pacing the greatest season ever to being average at best for over two months is beyond me.

On one hand, the Seahawks set a franchise record for points scored in a season but on the other, we all know the bulk of that was before defenses switched to a consistently two-deep look over the last 11 games. That Russell Wilson, the runaway favorite for MVP in October, suddenly regressed to the worst football of his life for the better part of the season goes beyond just the quarterback. Outside of the Jets game (which, Jets), this offense didn’t have a single great game in the second half of the season. Not one. In fact, they struggled mightily through most of it. With a healthy Russ, a healthy DK, and a mostly healthy Lockett.

Speaking of, here was Tyler’s quote about the offense after the game today:

Now, your own grandma will throw someone under the bus quicker than Tyler Lockett will. Remove the repeated fall-backs to “great job” (a Lockett IV staple) and what you’re left with is virgin-speak for “we had no answer”. If you have this many weapons on offense, and a QB with a decade-long resume that puts him among the all-time greats, how can you not adjust? If all your success depends on your great players exploiting one-on-one matchups, then you’re just simply not a championship-caliber coordinator. And if you’re not a championship-level coordinator on a team with championship-level aspirations, you shouldn’t be there. The NFL is a fast-learning organism, with dozens of really smart people grinding film for dozens of hours a week to figure out tendencies. There’s no excuse for not being able to overcome defensive adjustments— not with these playmakers.

As my buddy Austin put it to me, “So, the ‘Hawks give Russ the keys to the Ferrari for 6 games. After a small dent, they take them away. So now he has to drive with his parents in the backseat, but he’s expected to be Jimmie Johnson and win the race at the end.” I couldn’t agree more.

We begged this team to turn Russ loose and let him drive fast in this custom sports car they built for him. And when they did, he was awesome. But as soon as he bent a fender, they put him back in an Accord and expected the same results as before. You committed to Wilson scorching earth, so live with the highs and lows (there would be far more of the former than the latter, imo). And when those lows show up, find a way to adjust to the adjustments with the ridiculous allotment of skill-position talent you have around him.

Today was especially frustrating because there weren’t any surprises waiting for this offense. That they were done in by the same three players (Donald, Floyd, Williams) that killed them in the regular season is beyond frustrating. Where are the counter-punches?

And while we’re at it, why is this team still constantly not getting out of the huddle and to the line of scrimmage with more than 10 seconds left on the clock? I just can’t stand how many timeouts and hurried plays this team has to use because they’re not ready to call plays and / or audibles in a timely matter. It’s been a thing for years now but today was probably the worst I’ve ever seen. The offense was consistently rushing to get plays off, with no time to make adjustments at the line of scrimmage, and no example worse than the late 4th & 1.

After telegraphing the same shotgun read-option-with-no-threat-of-a-QB-keep play they’d run on short yardage all game failed, guard Damien Lewis was injured. Given more than three minutes to dial up a crucial 4th down play in the 4th quarter of an elimination game while trainers attended to Lewis, the team still didn’t get out of the huddle until there were 9 seconds left on the play clock. The team tried to rush a snap and in doing so, committed a drive-killing false start. And yeah, I know there’s a case to be made that the play-clock started a couple seconds early but given the delay, there is literally no acceptable excuse for not being ready for that situation. Beyond maddening.

Now, lest you think that last section is me letting Russell Wilson skate, stay right there. Russ has been a hair better than ass for most of the season, a shocking development made all the more so when you consider the insane first five games he had this year. Much of that falls on a systemic failure to adapt but that does not excuse Wilson’s performance since September. It’s hard to make a case that Russ has even been league-average since then, and that is a reality that sits in stark contrast to the performance of a QB that has spent most of his career burning opposing defenses to the fucking ground. He had a short stretch where he uncharacteristically turned the ball over a bunch, but it was as if that suddenly meant he couldn’t be Russ anymore.

There’s plenty of blame to be put on the offensive’s lack of adjustment but ultimately, the performance of the QB falls on the QB. It’s one thing to have historic production schemed away from you; it’s another thing entirely to go from loose and recreational to uptight and jittery. And Wilson has been jittery for a long time now. Gone was the jazzy improvisation, the free-wheeling combination of perfect deep balls and opportunistic scrambles. Suddenly, in their place, there was 4-yard fastballs and 50-yard overthrows. He went from evolving into a QB that stepped up through pressure and into opportunity to one that bailed early under siege and stared down his first reads.

Russell Wilson talks about being the greatest QB of all time but it’s been a long time since he played like anything close to a top-10 QB in the league right now. He is the unquestioned leader of this team, and he’s surrounded by the most offensive talent he’s ever had. Was he hamstrung down the stretch by his coaching? Probably. Should an all-time great be able to overcome that? You’d think so.

I hold to my feeling that something was damaged in Russ, whether physically or psychically, in that Buffalo loss earlier this year because ever since, we’ve seen a hesitation unlike anything he’s presented before. He’s looked tighter than a violin string for a long time now, playing without the legendary rhythm we’ve grown accustomed to seeing from him. It’s my thought that this offseason will go a long way towards letting him get back to the best version of himself, but there’s now a lot of film out there on how to shut him down and, coaching aside, it will be up to him to overcome that. Because make no mistake, if Russ doesn’t play like a Hall of Famer, we’re in for a lot more seasons ending like this one did today.

That brings us to one Peter Clay Carroll. The most successful coach in Seattle sports history. The architect of a league-changing defense. A man who will go down as one of the winningest coaches in NFL history despite a near-decade hiatus to coach in college— with remarkable success. A Super Bowl champion. A coach who was completely, utterly outmatched today.

There was no excuse for Seattle’s lack of preparation for today’s game. No excuse for wasted challenges, late play-calls, and the largest degree of quit that I’ve ever seen during his tenure. They showed up damn close to fully healthy, at home, against a team with half a quarterback and got completely bodied. They found themselves down by multiple scores late in a playoff game for the millionth straight postseason performance.

The argument for Pete Carroll is two-fold: 1) the culture-building that has helped this team average more than 10 wins per season since 2012— an extremely high floor, and 2) his reputation for getting teams ready for big games— aka, “treat every game like a championship game”.

There’s no rebuttal for #1, but this team’s season has ended on the back of really, really poor starts to playoff games for more than half a decade now. Each of their last six postseason losses have featured multiple-score deficits late in games— most of which have required heroic performances from Wilson to even make them close. The regularity with which this team has shown up unprepared against good teams in the playoffs since 2014 is staggering.

The argument against Carroll is also two-fold: 1) he has regressed terribly as an in-game coach (awful clock / timeout / challenge management, toothless risk / reward decision-making) and is no longer the same guy whose teams terrorized overmatched opponents (remember him leading the NFL in going for it on 4th down for four years, or running a fake punt up 44-0 against Buffalo?). And 2) he’s shown little-to-no adaptation to a league that evolves at a rapid pace.

This team should have won today—maybe not in blowout fashion— but certainly won. They were outmatched everywhere in this game, and looked completely lost at times. They had a drive that went holding-false start-sacks-handoff-sack. At the end of the day, that falls at the feet of the head coach— especially one that insists on influence in every level of the franchise.

Everything about Carroll’s coaching / management style protects the team from bad seasons while simultaneously keeping them from their highest possible outcome. Yes, he delivered a Super Bowl and nearly won another but there’s a shelf-life on the amount of forgiveness that that buys you (see: Mike McCarthy). Ultimately, your feelings about Pete Carroll likely come down to your comfort level with exchanging a secure floor for the chance at a championship ceiling.

Prior to 2013, I’d sign up for seasons like this all day every day. It’s great to always know your team won’t be bad going into the season. Since they won it all, however, and now that we know what championship football looks like, it’s hard to stomach hitting a January wall every year. I’m no longer satisfied with good regular seasons. There’s too much talent on this roster to lose the way they lost today— and the way they’ve lost their last games of every season for seven years running.

Now, I know it’s easy to criticize and much, much harder to offer solutions. With neither Pete Carroll (who just signed an extension) or Russell Wilson (who they should absolutely not move on from) going anywhere any time soon, here are mine; and they’re pretty much all Pete-centric:

Delegate. If you want to be where the buck stops at every level of an NFL franchise, then turn over the nuanced stuff to people whose whole job is to master those things. Delegate play-calling and fuck any preheld notions about “identity”. Delegate reviews, and timeouts, and 4th down decision-making. Refocus on what you are excellent at, ie energy and enthusiasm and culture-building. Keep your thumb on the defense, sure, but stay out of Russ’ ear. Turn him loose, even if it means a 4-INT game once every three years. There are WAY too many angles to championship-level NFL performance for one man to handle, so hire people to hyper-focus on niche aspects and keep your eyes on the plan from 20,000 feet in the air. Carroll gets lost when he gets in the weeds of real-time decision-making, so delegate delegate delegate.

Now, this will never happen, but I want it to. I’m not just going to complain without offering an alternative and frankly a healthy 12-4 team should never play like the Seahawks did today so clearly an alternative is necessary. Whether any of those things happen remains to be seen, and I’m honestly skeptical that any of it will.

It’s hard, all of a sudden, to see how this team has any seasons that end demonstrably better than this one did with current leadership. The one question I do want all of us to consider is this: if we heard tomorrow that Pete Carroll announced his retirement, what would your gut-level reaction be?

This off-season will be harder to stomach than even those in recent memory. We know this team can be good— really good— but we’re all skeptical that they’ll reach their ultimate ceiling. The best teams in the NFL are adapting to an ever-changing environment and level of athleticism at a rapid pace and it’s hard to see this team, with its current coaching staff, adapting at the same speed. I hope I’m wrong.

We’re all mad and disappointed and frustrated right now. The solace I’m taking is in knowing that the team, from the players to the coaches to management, all feel the same way too. Now we sit back and see what the fuck they do about it.

Until then, it has been the joy of my life to write for y’all. Onward, upward, go ‘Hawks.

Jacson on Twitter | Cigar Thoughts Hub | Cigar Thoughts Facebook

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Been saving the Signature Eastern Standard Piramide from Caldwell from the playoffs and man, was it ever worth the wait. Light, smooth, and tasty as hell.

I also just made a pretty righteous discovery, thanks to the boys at Athletic Brewing Company out of Seattle. They sent me a six-pack sampler and I shared it with my buddies— and they all loved it. The kicker is that the beer is non-alcoholic, and they couldn’t even tell. It’s honestly the perfect New Year’s Resolution drink, and I’m really happy I found out about it. You can order directly from them at their website, AthleticBrewing.com

For the second straight year, I am STOKED about our partnership with Seattle Cigar Concierge. They have the plug on some of the most insane stogies on the market and they’re has offering them to Cigar Thoughts readers for 20% off. These are high-end sticks, and among the most enjoyable I’ve ever smoked. To get the plug, just email SeattleCigarConcierge@gmail.com. They are carrying over 70 cigar brands with many rare releases, including Davidoff, Opus X, and Padron. You can also hit him up on Twitter: @SeattleCigars.

Seattle Cigar Concierge is also offering a special promotion from Caldwell One, the proceeds of which are going to support first responders. Bundles of 10 going for the deeply discounted rate of $120 for 10 of these beauties.

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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.