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Cigar Thoughts, Game 5: Disaster in Seattle

A strange, sloppy loss to the Rams is magnified by a worrisome injury to Russell Wilson. Lots to get to in this one.

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

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We all knew it would be weird tonight. It always is during primetime with these guys. And while most Seahawks games involve some heavy petting of the twilight zone, this one achieved full coitus with the bizarre. Let’s get to it.

The Rams began the game with the ball and their opening drive lasted five plays. One of them was a sharp come-back route to Van Jefferson for 16 yards but the Seahawks defense was stout on the other four, forcing a punt and building some much-needed confidence. They rallied to ball-carriers, pressed in coverage, and required Matthew Stafford to pass into tight windows— throws he’d miss as often as not all first half.

That effort gave the ball to Seattle and their offense immediately checked every box that was missing from last week’s start. Using pre-snap motion, play-action, and a moving pocket, the Seahawks put Russell Wilson in position to scan the field and hit a wide open Tyler Lockett for 25. A handoff to Alex Collins got three and a quick out to Lockett got four, bringing up 3rd & 3 at LA’s 43. After Aaron Donald forced an incompletion, the Seahawks chickened out and punted away.

It was such a disappointing end to a sequence that had been going beautifully for Seattle; any time you get near scoring position, you simply have to prioritize getting points— and that’s especially true against a team like the Rams. Just a big ol’ bummer. Fortunately the defense was up to the task again, allowing another first down before squeezing things and getting the ball back via another punt. Bullet dodged.

The Seahawks’ second drive was solid too, leaning heavily on the run and using one big pass to DK Metcalf to move the ball into Rams’ territory again. On that play, Wilson dropped back as the pocket began to crumble. Seeing an escape route to his left, he hopped out of trouble, set his feet and whipped the ball downfield. Meanwhile, Metcalf stacked Jalen Ramsey up on a seam route and, sensing his QB on the move, spun Ramsey around and moved left. The throw was on time and on target, with DK snagging it and nearly ending the life of the other defensive back who came over to tackle him.

After that it was three straight runs to LA’s 27, setting up a 4th & 2. Unlike last time, Pete Carroll made the right choice and kept the offense on the field. The play-call, however, was a bit more dubious. Seattle— the team with Russell Wilson as their quarterback— handed it off for the fourth straight time and Collins was gobbled up by Aaron Donald. Replay showed that Collins may have had a gap to his left but either way, it was another big nothin’ for the ‘Hawks offense. And while I can live with the outcome in a vacuum, my fear is that the result will lead to even more future 4th down cowardice. Hope I’m wrong.

The Rams offense took advantage of the opportunity their defense afforded them, and proceeded to chunk their way to 62 yards on their next seven plays, including a perfectly-timed screen pass to Darrell Henderson. That set them up on Seattle’s 8 and the first score of the game was certain— or so it seemed. Seattle’s D-line would bring pressure on the next snap, forcing Stafford to roll right. The Seahawks coverage stayed tight and Stafford threw it away— or at least he would have if Quandre Diggs didn’t exist. Diggs, who tracked Stafford like a leopard from the back of the end zone, exploded across the field to intercept the pass and send the Lumen Field crowd into an uproar.

Not to be outdone, Wilson would hand it right back four plays later. After a scramble and a couple of hand-offs, Seattle’s QB stepped back and unleashed a rifle shot to an in-breaking Lockett. In-routes are the hardest to time and when Ramsey is in coverage, as he was here, that margin for error becomes almost indistinct. So it was on this throw, as the ball, intended for Tyler’s front shoulder, ended up on his back one. That minor misplacement allowed Ramsey to jab the ball away, popping it up in the air where it was corralled by a diving Troy Reeder for Wilson’s first interception of the season.

Not that LA would do anything with it. Their ensuing three, out, and punt put the ball back in Seattle’s hands at their own 17 with slightly over 10 minutes left in the second quarter.

Somehow this game was still scoreless.

The stalemate would end on the next drive, with Wilson and Co finally breaking through. It started with a slick lil shovel pass to Penny Hart and was followed by a field-flipping pass interference call after Lockett vaporized a cornerback up the right sideline. The desperate penalty was the only thing saving a touchdown, but it only delayed the inevitable. After Collins got three on first down, Wilson took a shotgun snap, looked right, and fired. In his robotic sights was the broad, rippling chest of Metcalf, whose expert positioning shielded Ramsey and safety Taylor Rapp from the ball. Wilson’s pass hit him at the 2 and DK did the rest from there, powering into the end zone and giving Seattle a 7-0 lead. Finally. God damn.

It had been a while since the Seahawks defense had allowed a long, will-crushing scoring drive and I think they realized that. Making amends, they allowed the Rams to gobble up eight minutes of clock on a plodding 14-play drive that included one 4th down conversion and almost certainly would have included another, had Stafford not hurt his finger a couple plays prior. Facing 4th & 1, and with the Rams QB flexing and looking at his bothered digit, head coach Sean McVay mercifully relented and sent out the kicker Matt Gay to make it 7-3.

That left Seattle with just enough time— roughly a minute and a half— to make this a two-score affair. If they could accomplish that feat, they’d immediately have a chance to make it three scores, as they’d be receiving the second half kickoff. An incredible opportunity against a superior foe. Things started swimmingly, with Wilson dotting up Deejay Dallas for 29 on a pristine wheel route. Then it Dallas up the middle for four followed by a roughing call against Donald that put the ‘Hawks at LA’s 24.

Immediately following that blessing, Wilson found Freddie Swain over the middle for 9, entrenching Seattle firmly in the go-zone. They’d capitalize on the very next play, with Russ expertly climbing the pocket and zipping the ball to an open Lockett in the back of the end zone just before halftime. A fantastic ending to a much-needed drive... except. The celebration was cut short as a flag was discovered in the backfield. Erstwhile left tackle Duane Brown was called for a holding penalty and the score came off the board.

Not only did the penalty erase the points, it ate up valuable clock. Not only did it eat up valuable clock, it moved them out of quick-strike range. Not only that, it forced them to settle for a field goal. And not only that, Jason Myers flubbed the kick left. 14-3 became 10-3 became 7-3. It was also the last time we’d be remotely happy.

Four first half trips into Rams territory ended thusly:

~Punt on 4th & 3
~Failed 4th down run
~Touchdown
~Missed field goal

Seven points. They had let the Rams off the hook too many times early and those cocks would come home to roost in a big way after halftime.

The first drive of the second half started well, with the Seahawks picking up two first downs and getting as far as midfield before incompletions and a sack brought Michael Dickson out to boot it away again. Dickson took the long snap and calmly skied his kick into the night, carrying 54 yards effortlessly to LA’s 1, where the ball landed like a perfectly struck 9-iron and spun back to the 4. An exquisite effort from an exquisite boy.

The Seahawks defense, which had been playing their asses off thus far, kept up the charade for a few more plays. They eventually got the Rams into a 3rd & 10 deep in their own territory but like a pot of popcorn on the stove, it was only a matter of time before the lid came off. That ultimately happened on the next play, with Stafford dropping back and unleashing his howitzer of a throwing arm.

In actuality, good interior pressure forced the Rams QB to throw it a little early, but the arc gave all-time deep threat DeSean Jackson just enough time to work his magic. The one cardinal sin in any Pete Carroll defense is letting a receiver beat you over the top. Never mind that such an insistence comes at the cost of a thousand paper cuts, you just can’t let it happen. On this play, Jackson got right about even with a backpedalling Jamal Adams— just enough that Adams turned to run upfield with the speedster. Instead, the ball came up short— something Jackson saw but Adams didn’t.

As Jamal ran headlong into the void, Jackson swooped back under the pass, caught it, and zoomed across the field and out of bounds inside Seattle’s 10. Guess Stafford’s hand was okay. Two plays later, Darrell Henderson was tumbling into the end zone to make it 9-7 because Gay would clank the extra point off the upright. You miss one, I miss one.

In the moment, it felt like that missed kick might come into play down the stretch. And when Gay hooked the kickoff out of bounds, it seemed like the second straight week in which an opposing kicker may play a big role in a Seahawks victory. I said it seemed like it. Jeez.

The Seahawks would gain all of -1 yards on their next drive before punting it away but a universe of angst existed within that innocuous sentence. On second down, Wilson fell back in the pocket and looked to answer LA’s big play. With Lockett breaking free up the right side, Russ launched the ball towards his diminutive partner the way we we’ve seen so many great plays start before. This pass, sadly, sailed a foot beyond Lockett’s spindly little arms but that wasn’t the worst of it. As Wilson finished his throw, his throwing hand hit the arm of Aaron Donald, the velocity of the impact dislocating the star QB’s middle finger.

Wilson, to his credit, stayed in the game but I don’t think anyone on the field was expecting pass, despite it being 3rd & 10. After the ensuing punt, and tasting the kill, the Rams continued pushing forward. They ran five plays for four first downs on their next possession, including a TD pass to Tyler Higbee, who easily bested Adams in the right front corner of the end zone. 16-7.

This whole time, the entire PNW had been holding their collective breath, wondering about the extent of Wilson’s injury. To our great relief, the bionic QB trotted back out onto the field. To our horror, his next pass attempt was a full on glitch. The team drew up an easy one for him, a quick screen to Colby Parkinson, but even that throw fluttered and almost didn’t reach its target. Russ was done for the day and we all knew it. He’d stay in long enough to take a sack before trundling off the field and handing it over to his punter yet again.

With everything falling apart around him, Michael Dickson playfully headed back out there to do his job. As he received the snap and readied his kick, a Rams defender came flying up the middle. He blocked the punt, sending the ball spinning off to the left. No matter, like a modern-day Tom Bombadil— unphased as he giggles and dances his way through a world of torment and chaos— Dickson bounded over and scooped up the ball with one hand like a fucking maniac.

At this point the game had basically become Calvinball and, in the absence of rules, Dickson did what he does best. After palming the pigskin, he darted around like he was gonna run for it before pulling up and launching a (I can’t believe I’m saying this) 68-yard punt while everything else descended into madness. Absolutely no one knew what the rules were at this point, and Dickson sat off to the side laughing and writing ditties about magic while refs threw flags, picked them up, discussed their options, and ultimately let the play stand.

The defense would actually hold this time, thanks in large part to a Stafford misfire, and that brought on one Geno Smith. At this point, the contest was all but forfeit and I think most of us were just wondering how ugly the game and (gulp) the season was gonna get. To make matters worse, the Rams had pinned Seattle on their own 2. The hurricane was beating down on Russ’ poor understudy, the hounds of war barking and clawing at his door.

But Geno stood defiantly against the tempest, baring his teeth against oncoming death and kicked those hellhounds right in their nuts. After a short run gave him a modicum of breathing room, Metcalf drew a PI against Ramsey and then Smith hit Metcalf on an in-route that DK deftly turned into a 17-yard gain by twirling around receivers like some sort of mythical beast.

After that, Geno took flight. He’d drag this beleaguered team all 98 yards through sheer, fuck-you grit. After nine confident looking plays, Smith dropped back, looked downfield, and threw left. On the other end of the play, Metcalf staggered the DB with a double-move and stared into his frightened eyes as the defender fell over in terror. That allowed DK to glide under the pass in the end zone for a 23-yard score that somehow kept this game within reach at 16-14.

If there was any mercy on this woe begotten night, the Seahawks would find one more stand in the next moments. One last show of resistance to let the people believe the impossible could happen. Instead, they splintered like balsa wood. Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp continued to criss-cross the field as unbothered as if they were running 7-on-7s in the offseason. It was too easy for Stafford, throwing effortlessly into gaping pockets for big gains at will. It was only a matter of time before Sony Michel would saunter untouched into the end zone to make it 23-14.

Down two scores with six minutes left, it was finally curtains for the home team. Except no one told Geno Smith that. Following his 10-play scoring drive, Smith went back out there like a muhfuggin’ professional and led an 11-play scoring drive. This one featured consecutive completions to Lockett, Collins, Metcalf, and Collins again along with some effective runs, before finally stalling out at the Rams 14. On 4th & 10, and needing two scores regardless, Seattle took the short field goal— successful this time— and cut the lead to six at 23-17.

To make a weird night even goofier, the Seahawks forced a three-and-out, using their timeouts to keep the Rams possession under a minute and giving Geno the Gawd one last chance. The emotions in the stadium at this point were more confusing than puberty and every bit as exciting. One shot at glory— undoubtedly an opportunity Smith has been imagining from behind his clipboard for four years.

So far, Smith’s two possessions totaled 21 plays, covered 166 yards, and resulted in 10 points. Could he do it again?

Nope. He threw a pick on the first play and that was that. Replay showed that there was slight contact between a DB and his intended receiver Lockett, but it looked pretty incidental. Even so, Lockett ended up flailed across the turf, whether through tripping over his own feet or trying to sell the contact as a penalty. Either way, no flag was thrown and the ball flew directly to a defender to wrap this one up. The Rams would add a field goal to make it 26-17 but it didn’t really matter. LA moved to 4-1 while Seattle fell to 2-3, suffering their third loss in the last 26 days

SMOKE RINGS

~Russell Wilson came into this game leading the NFL in yards per pass, TD%, INT%, and passer rating. For all of the offense’s intermittent struggles this season, Wilson has been, on aggregate, as good as ever. And yet, no matter where we fall with him or this team, we all seem to be holding back from saying this is his best work. I think most of that has to do with the stretches of pure futility that have been exacerbated by a defense that struggles to get off the field, and I think we’re also all a bit gun-shy after last year’s blazing start.

The numbers in this one were pretty good before the injury. He’d finish 11 of 16 for 153 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT but it very easily could’ve been two scores sans the hold, stats that were in-line with the absurd efficiency he’s shown thus far this season. What really matters, however, is the severity of his injury.

I have no medical insight and won’t pretend to here but one thing I am assuming is that having an exploded finger on your throwing hand is non-ideal for an NFL quarterback. I know QBs have played through hand and finger injuries before, so I don’t know if this is gonna be a pain tolerance thing or more of a let-it-heal situaish. I suppose it’s gonna be a wait-and-see deal— just what we need, some existential consternation added to an already tense season.

~I gotta hand it to Geno Smith though; my man was ready. I imagine it’s got to be difficult to spend so much time without game action and remain poised and prepared to enter a situation like the one Smith did tonight. And, outside of an interception that probably wasn’t his fault, he was remarkable.

Whenever something as dramatic as an injury to a previously indestructible Hall of Fame quarterback happens, extra weight is naturally given to what happens in the aftermath. There is going to be a lot of piping hot takery over the next week and a half about Russell Wilson and Geno Smith and so I ask, as much as is possible in this newly post-apocalyptic, to just chill on whatever crazy-ass thoughts are bouncing around that tortured skull of yours.

For now, let’s just discuss what we saw from him in this game. His final numbers actually mirrored Wilson’s almost exactly: 11/17, 131 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT. He didn’t connect on his final four passes of the night, meaning he started out 10 of 13 at a 10.1 Y/A clip. That is absolutely sensational, especially given the circumstances. More than anything, he looked ready. He stood strong in the pocket, got out of trouble when he needed to, and threw with confidence. It didn’t feel like a backup out there, and that’s about as good as you can hope for. If Russ does miss some games for the first time in his career, I feel a lot better than I would have prior. Not good, but better.

~With Chris Carson out, the burden of Seattle’s ball-carrying fell on the shifty shoulders of Alex Collins and those of the more straight-lined Deejay Dallas. Last week, Collins provided a crucial jolt to a struggling offense and I thought that, for the most part, he looked pretty good in this one. There never was much room to run but on the rare occasions where he did find some, he looked almost as slippery as he did against the Niners.

Collins carried the ball 15 times but only managed 47 yards, including a potential missed gap on the early 4th & short. He did catch two of his three targets for another 25 yards though, giving him a respectable 72 overall. Not great, not terrible.

Dallas, for his part, had four carries for seven yards and also caught two balls— his going for 32 through the air. All in all, 111 yards on 23 touches for the two backs. Eh.

~Much was made, and for good reason, of the matchup between DK Metcalf and Jalen Ramsey. These are flat-out two of the best— and certainly coolest— players at their position and any time they lock horns, you know we’re in for some peak football. And Seattle didn’t shy away from the matchup, giving Metcalf four opportunities against Ramsey in this game.

In the first half, Metcalf was targeted twice and he made both opportunities count. On the first one, DK put Jalen in absolute hell by stopping his route up the hashmarks, juking inside, and sprinting back towards the sideline for the catch. On the second one, Metcalf exploded up the right side from the Rams’ 19, immediately chewing up the generous cushion Ramsey granted him, receiving the football inside of Ramsey’s backpedal and trucking his way into the end zone.

With Seattle’s offense sputtering, and Wilson’s finger busted, Metcalf wouldn’t see another look until the fourth quarter, when Geno Smith looked for him on a skinny post. On that play, DK again got a step on Ramsey and drew a pass interference call. On the very next snap, he beat Ramsey inside again, juked him and another defender, and wriggled upfield for 17. At the end of the day, Dk was 3-3 against Jalen for 61 yards and a score, plus the penalty. Absolutely plopped his balls on the table in this one, outplaying arguably the best cover corner in the world.

Metcalf was targeted twice when covered by others and he caught both of those as well for 37 more yards and another TD. He was nigh-unstoppable tonight. In fact, counting the playoff game against LA last year, he now has 9 catches for 193 yards and 4 TDs in his last two matchups with the Rams. Mercy.

~Since being drafted, no player in the NFL has drawn more pass interference yards than Tyler Lockett. We saw more of that today, as he manufactured a defensive hold in the first quarter and a massive 47-yard DPI in the second— a play that set up Seattle’s first touchdown*. We already know about his tremendous statistical prowess, but this is one area in which he really separates himself as a receiver.

*His third attempt at drawing a flag well, that may be what handed LA the game-winning interception. Can’t win ‘em all.

As far as his non-penalty production goes, that was decent, as he turned 10 targets into five catches for 57 yards. Add in the penalties and he accounted for 109 yards and would have added a 15-yard score to that if not for the hold late in the second. Basically, an almost-big day for Tyler.

~The Rams had only allowed four sacks through four games— the fewest in the NFL— and Seattle didn’t do much better. Darrell Taylor collapsed the line in the first quarter to drag Stafford down, his fourth sack of the season already, but that would be the only one the ‘Hawks would get. For all of Seattle’s defensive struggles, Taylor is turning into the monster they drafted him to be right before our eyes. Poona Ford had a few nice plays in the run game tonight, but until his batted pass in the fourth quarter, I don’t think I’d heard Carlos Dunlap’s name called in a month.

All in all, the defensive front really struggled, especially against the run. They held their own for as long as they could but the dam ultimately broke in the second half. By then, LA basically had their way. The Rams ran 28 times for 120 yards and two TDs while Stafford racked up 365 and another score through the air. Frankly, it could’ve / should’ve been a lot more but he missed some throws he normally hits. I know the Rams are really good but at this point I think it’s safe to say this defense sucks.

~Another season, another year of Bobby Wagner leading the NFL in tackles. He entered this game with, fittingly, 54 of them and there was no doubt he’d be busy tonight. Except, he sort of wasn’t. I’m not sure if he was a step slow, or if the Rams were keying him with some unique blocks, or what— but four tackles and an otherwise empty stat sheet is a rarity to say the least. It’s not a pattern so I’m not overly worried about him but they needed more from their captain tonight.

Jordyn Brooks led the way with 10 tackles, sticking his nose in where he could but far too often it was far too downfield. He continues to struggle in coverage but I truly think that whatever Pete Carroll and Ken Norton Jr are calling this “scheme”, it’s making coverage assignments virtually impossible for the LBs.

~It’s likely that no team Seattle plays this season will stress this secondary as much as the Rams and I thought they played their asses off in response. For the first half at least. Quandre Diggs was especially good tonight, providing sticky coverage, sure tackling, and the lone turnover. He also looked the maddest on the defensive breakdowns so I’m choosing to believe he was the one doing his job.

DJ Reed was given absolutely everything he could handle in this one and he was mostly up to the task— certainly as much as any of us could have reasonably hoped for. Targeted relentlessly, he stuck to Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods as best he could, and while he allowed his share of catches, he was almost always in good position and eliminated the big plays. Then, in the second half, they switched to a zone and he got chewed up, just like every other corner has whenever the ‘Hawks go to that coverage. I just don’t understand it. It’s not like they’re devoid of talent.

An atrocious game for Jamal Adams. He had some brutal moments in this one, getting beat by DeSean Jackson deep then Tyler Higbee short for LA’s two best passing plays of the game. He was out of position on a few other ones and missed a big tackle on a third down run. I’m a big fan of Adams but he looked completely lost today. They almost all did. For the third time in four games. This defensive team stinks like plagued carcasses and I don’t really think it’s an issue of ability. I think the whole thing has to go.

~Michael Dickson is a got damn wizard. That is all.

This was a rough one, even without the Wilson injury. It’s hard to paint an optimistic path forward as Seattle currently sits 2.5 games out of first place in their division and frankly, they just don’t look the part of a real contender. They have rarely answered the bell when adversity shows up and their two wins have come against teams with good rosters but questionable quarterback play. If that’s what it takes for them to win, they’re in big trouble.

Fortunately, they draw Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers next Sunday night, with a chance to get back to .500 and raise our spirits in the process. In the meantime, it’s gonna be a long 10 days.

This team isn’t cooked, but they’re simmering. We’ll all have to keep a closer eye on the oven this season than we’re used to. Right now it still feels like they can turn this around and make a playoff push, at least you can tell yourself that story, but it’s also looking like it might come apart more than it has in a decade. These next few games are going to be monumental.

Until then, onwards and upwards.

The game might have sucked but the stogie didn’t. I enjoyed the hell out of a My father Limited Edition Garcia Y Garcia Toro, an immaculately smooth smoke that stayed consistent throughout and never got too hot. And the smell is intoxicating. Countered it with a American Prarie bourbon from High West— tremendous combo.

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