***As most of you know, Cigar Thoughts is now a podcast. One of the perks of the pod is getting these articles in audio form, in addition to our sit-downs with our amazing guests. You can listen to all the shows, including this article, right here:
Like many of you, I mentally circle wins and losses when the schedules are released before each season. And I’m guessing precious few of us slotted a road game against the defending Super Bowl champions into the W column. I certainly didn’t. But the landscape of the NFL is not made of rock, and the many tremors that ripple through each season cause unpredictable settling every year. If you had told me that this game would be played between a 6-5 team and a 3-8 one, I’d have totally believed you— provided you didn’t tell me which team was which.
But the Los Angeles Rams have lost everybody that made them the ferocious world beaters from a year ago— on the field at least. Any discussion of this game has to start with the fact that the Rams played without the Super Bowl MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, and Offensive Player of the Year which, whew. The Rams still had Sean McVay, however, and few coaches have had another’s number the way McVay’s teams have dominated Pete Carroll’s over the last few years.
And while on paper the depleted Rams looked like an easy win for a healthy Seahawks team, we knew in our souls that there was a good chance this would be a battle anyway. And boy, was it ever.
The home team received the opening kick and Los Angeles proceeded to ram it up Seattle’s pooter. Cam Akers started things off with two big runs and, after a couple successful jet sweeps, finished it with a touchdown plunge while the Seahawks defense offered all the resistance of ankle deep water. The frustrating thing about the ease with which LA moved the ball was that you knew the Rams were gonna try to establish the run early, made all the worse by the fact that they came in as the worst rushing team in the NFL. They trotted out their 12th different OL combo in as many games but against Seattle, they looked like the 1990s Cowboys. 10 plays, 75 yards, 7-0.
Seattle seemed a little disconcerted on offense early, starting the game with a false start but following it up with an electric Ken Walker III run. On that play, Walker III took the handoff, darted through the line, and then bounced to the left to gain the edge and sprint down the sideline for 30 yards. Unfortunately, he came up limping at the end of the run and would leave the game for good two rushes later. In the meantime, Geno Smith overcame a Bobby Wagner (infinite heart emojis) sack to hit Tyler Lockett for 10, scramble for four more, and then go back to Lockett for the score. Lockett lined up in the right slot, said “watch this” then hit the Usher meme in the endzone after snaking through the defense on a crossing route, slipping a tackle at the five and diving in to tie the game at seven.
After carving off some flesh in the run game on their first drive, the Rams started slicing the Seahawks up through the air. John Wolford completed his next four passes for 54 yards, hitting wide open receivers for chunk gains seemingly at will. They sputtered out inside the Seahawks’ 25 but were able to reclaim the lead on a 40-yard field goal from Matt Gay. 10-7.
Seattle’s response was to go three-and-out, including a play where Walker III appeared to miss a block. That led to him and Smith barking at each other on the sideline while Michael Dickson booted it away. Now, stuff like that happens all the time with every football team but combined with the defense’s poor showing, it made for a bad visual early on. Fortunately, Seattle was able to get a stop on the next drive when Shelby Harris tipped a 3rd down pass.
That seemed to settle things down and the Seahawks offense came back with a drive that showcased everything Shane Waldron brings to the table. It started with a pass over the middle to Colby Parkinson for 12 yards and was followed by a six-yard run that would also mark Walker III’s final play of the game. With their studly rookie RB getting his foot looked at on the sideline, Smith went to work. He hit Noah Fant in the right flat for 18 yards then whipped it out to DK Metcalf for eight more on the left side. Then it was Metcalf again, this time on a 25-yard in route against zone coverage and, after an incompletion and a seven-yard Deejay Dallas run, Seattle ran one of their coolest plays of the game. Lockett lined up to the left, just inside of Metcalf. As DK pushed his route upfield, Lockett feinted outside and then cut back inside on the heels of Metcalf’s route. Lockett caught the pass in Metcalf’s wake and leaned forward for 12. That set up a beautiful lob to Fant in the back right corner of the endzone to make it 14-10 Seahawks.
Seattle had some momentum now, and the vibes continued when Tariq Woolen skied for his sixth interception of the season. Teams have almost entirely stopped throwing Woolen’s way already, which is a remarkable sign of respect for a rookie, and this was a reminder of why. The Seahawks had a chance to do some neck-stepping after the pick but a false start and another Wagner sack led to a quick punt instead. The outcome was frustrating but made all the more so by Geno not seeing DK as he beat Jalen Ramsey deep against solo press coverage.
The negative possession gave the Rams one last chance to score before the break and that’s exactly what they did, marching 28 yards on seven plays before Gay hammered a 54-yarder over the crossbar to send the teams to the locker room at 14-13.
Seattle started the second half by leaning into their big stud, as Smith found Metcalf on consecutive plays for 12 and 19 yards respectively. Tony Jones Jr gained four on the next play and Seattle was cooking, with a 2nd & 6 on LA’s 40. Smith tried to go back to Metcalf on the ensuing snap but Damien Lewis got beat by Michael Hoecht, who hit Smith as he threw. The ball tumbled forward and Taylor Rapp fell on it to give the Rams a much-needed boost.
To their credit, the Seahawks defense held firm after the turnover, forcing a three-and-out thanks to Jordyn Brooks’ first sack of the year. Seattle rarely blitzes their linebackers and maybe it was the surprise element that allowed Brooks to knife through the line for the takedown.
Seattle parlayed the stop into a really nice drive highlighted by a rare go ball to Metcalf down the right sideline. I’ve been begging this team to take at least one downfield shot to DK and this play showcased exactly why. Metcalf got a clean release to the outside and glided past the corner before leaping high in the air to catch the perfectly thrown pass and tap both feet before stepping out of bounds. A couple of plays later, Metcalf got mixed up with Jalen Ramsey and the two spent the next two snaps yapping at each other incessantly. That led to a really fun sequence where Ramsey lined up across from Metcalf on the right side, with DK motioning to the left. As he did, he pointed at Jalen and gestured for him to follow. Ramsey didn’t, at Metcalf coasted into the left flat for a six yard catch. The possession stalled out after that, but Seattle’s chip shot field goal became much tougher when Metcalf snuck an extra elbow in when he and Ramsey found themselves facemask to facemask after a 3rd down incompletion. It was no problem for Jason Myers, though, as he banged home a 41-yard field goal to extend the lead to 17-13.
The Rams went three and out on their next drive, with Uchenna Nwosu chasing Wolford down on a 3rd down scramble. It gave Seattle another chance to extend their lead and for a minute, that prospect looked pretty good. A Jones Jr run for nine on 2nd down set up a 19-yard completion to Will Dissly on 3rd & 1. A Lockett catch and a Jones run would net another first down but Bobby Wagner wasn’t finished with his former team just yet.
On 2nd & 12 from the Rams 38, Smith dropped back and flipped it out to Jones Jr in the right flat. But as Jones went to a knee to catch it, Wagner flew in and wrapped him up like an alligator, rolling Jones to the turf and ripping the ball out of his hands in the process. Replay made it look like maybe Jones was down with possession but I’ve given up trying to figure out what a catch is and the call of interception was upheld. Plus, it was just a sweet play by Wags.
The Rams turned their latest opportunity into a field goal, getting their feet back beneath them for the first time in a while with a couple of slick completions and another jet sweep. They’d use nine plays to go 42 yards, before Nwosu shut things down with a 3rd down sack. That set Gay up for a 32-yarder that he converted to bring them back within one at 17-16.
The Seahawks used another 11-play drive to get deep into Rams territory again, a possession accented by two good runs from Jones Jr and a huge 27-yard completion to Lockett. Myers’ second field goal made it 20-16 with just 6:46 to play and it was time to see if Seattle’s defense could put it away*.
*Narrator: they could not
The Rams’ next drive was reminiscent of their first, as they went back to the ground to keep the chains moving and the clock dwindling. After completions to Tutu Atwell and Tyler Higbee gained 26 total yards, the Rams ran it on four of the next five plays for 37 yards. After a nine-yard out to Higbee got the ball to the six, Akers did the rest, following his blocks into the endzone and a 23-20 lead with less than three minutes to play.
The stage was set. Everyone felt what didn’t need to be said— it was put up or shut up time for Geno and this offense. There have been so many opportunities just like this with Smith at QB but we’d yet to see deliverance with the game in the balance. The stakes couldn’t have been more clear: lead a touchdown drive and Geno claims the final infinity stone as a franchise QB. Fail, and the season is officially off the rails. To be honest, I wasn’t even considering a game-tying field goal. It felt like touchdown or die.
And folks, Geno Smith was ready.
First it was Metcalf over the middle for nine, then Fant on an out route for seven more. An incompletion on the following play was erased by an illegal contact penalty against Ramsey. Two plays later, Smith found Fant again for 14 more, moving the ball to LA’s 40. Consecutive incompletions to Lockett were redeemed by a massive 10-yard completion to Tyler as he expertly positioned his little baby body in front of the defender right at the first down marker.
Dallas went up the middle for five on 1st down and then Smith hit Marquise Goodwin for 17 down to the 8 yard line with 41 seconds left. With all of the clout, history, and animosity between DK Metcalf and Jalen Ramsey, the tension in the atmosphere was palpable. You hear me talk a lot about putting the outcome of a close game in the hands of your greatest champions and that’s precisely what Smith did here. Metcalf was lined up to the left with Ramsey undoubtedly demanding the assignment. Be careful what you ask for, buddy.
As Smith took the snap, Metcalf bent his route inward, gaining a step on Ramsey and breaking over the middle. Smith stood strong in the pocket and whistled a spiral into the endzone, where Metcalf surged forward to meet it. DK wrapped his powerful hands around the ball as Ramsey pounced on him like a hyena trying to take down a lion. Metcalf secured the pass and carried Ramsey to the turf, emerging with the ball held high and a monumental win in the books.
The defense punctuated the victory with another Nwosu sack and a Cody Barton interception on a desperate 4th down heave. 27-23. 7-5. New life.
~Last week, in both this article and the podcast, I talked about how despite all of his success as a starter in Seattle, Geno Smith has yet to come through with a true game-winning drive. In fact, he was 0-6 in those opportunities before today, so when he took the field down by three with three minutes left, it felt like a mini referendum on Smith as the QBotF for the Seahawks. And with the pressure of a potential season-crushing loss on his shoulders, Smith calmly went six for nine for 65 yards and the winning TD pass.
Let’s not mince words— Geno Smith was fucking awesome today. He completed 28 of 39 passes for 367 yards and three touchdowns and while he did turn it over twice, it’s hard to pin either of them on him too squarely. He has now thrown multiple TD passes for the sixth straight game, the only QB in the NFL to do that this season.
With no running game and a faulty OL, he simply did everything necessary to win this game. No notes, Geno forever.
~Ken Walker III got hurt early in this one, which is a shame for a number of reasons. For one, he ripped off a 30-yarder on his first carry and looked poised for a big time get-right game. More notably, it affected the way Seattle played this game, as they came in already thin in the backfield with Travis Homer injured. And when Deejay Dallas got roughed up a few plays later, it left them threadbare.
Enter Tony Jones Jr, who was thrust into the middle of a very close, very important game. And if you’re expecting me to talk about what a great job he did in relief, I am sorry to disappoint. Jones Jr had 14 yards on seven carries and added 18 more on two catches but he dropped one pass and had another wrestled away from him for an interception, and I don’t think he forced a missed tackle. The point is not to shit on Jones Jr, who did what he could; rather, it’s to point out just how much this offense is affected without a threat at RB. The pass game was elite, which bailed Seattle out in this regard, but the degree of injury to Walker III will have a big impact on how this team performs over the final five games.
Dallas, for his part, was ruled doubtful after getting hurt but necessity forced him back on the field. He finished with 37 yards on 10 carries but clearly lacked the explosion that the ‘Hawks are counting on in their scheme.
~DK Metcalf vs Jalen Ramsey has become my favorite rivalry in all of sports, and they were at each other’s throats again in this one. From wrestling matches on run plays to mid-route jawing to personal fouls, the mutual hatred was unvarnished and on full display. Now, Ramsey is inarguably one of the best corners in the NFL and his brash, unfiltered aggression makes him one of my favorite players in the league. So when he and Metcalf get together, it becomes the most fascinating game-within-the-game I could ever hope for. And, like so many times before this, DK Metcalf kicked his ass.
Metcalf earned eight targets in this one, catching every single one of them, for 127 yards and the biggest touchdown of the season. Not to put too fine a point on it but he fucked the Rams up today, and he did it down the field for the first time in nearly two months. He had a fantastic leaping sideline catch for 40 yards in the second half and got loose for what could’ve been another huge gain when he beat Ramsey deep on a route Smith never saw. He dominated every facet of the route tree, averaging 15.9 yards per target after posting just 6.1 over the last seven games. This version of DK Metcalf makes the Seahawks far more dangerous.
For as incredible as Metcalf was today, it was Tyler Lockett who led the team in every receiving category. Seattle’s cute little imp slithered and flashed all over the field, popping up to snag nine of 12 targets for 128 yards and a score. He now ranks 11th in the NFL in catches, 11th in yards, and 5th in receiving touchdowns. He is still a top tier WR in this league and he was beyond valuable in today’s victory.
The tight ends got back up to their old shenanigans this afternoon, with Noah Fant, Will Dissly, and Colby Parkinson combining for seven catches, 76 yards and a TD on eight targets. Dissly and Parkinson aren’t gonna sparkle much, but they’ve proven dependable when called upon and there’s real value in that. The upside elevator goes a couple floors higher with Fant, however, and he led the group with four catches for 42 yards and a tudder. It’s unlikely any of these guys become fantasy superstars but this is a group that helps keep this offense on schedule and provide enough of a threat to keep things open for Metcalf and Lockett.
~Despite no Aaron Donald, the interior of the Seahawks OL got whooped today. Charles Cross and Abe Lucas played well overall from what I could see, but there was still consistent pressure up the middle. Smith handled it well, and it did get better as the game progressed, but let’s just say the Seahawks were very, very fortunate to avoid Donald in this one. At this point, I think guard and center have become major focal points for the upcoming offseason but they’ll have to try and get this team to the finish line in the meantime.
~John Wolford completed seven of his first eight passes for 98 yards, taking significant bites out of Seattle’s defense in the first quarter before the ‘Hawks settled down. And from that point on, the Rams QB was held to 7-18 for 80 yards. The bigger issue was on the ground, as the Seahawks spent most of the game a step slower than Sean McVay’s horizontally-focused misdirection scheme. Cam Akers, who has been invisible all season, had 60 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries while Brandon Powell and Tutu Atwell combined for 68 more on seven sweeps. Throw in some QB boots and Los Angeles finished with 171 rush yards— a number that would shock most teams but somehow isn’t even close to the worst we’ve seen from Seattle. Not sure what the answer here is.
There were plenty of bright spots, however. Uchenna Nwosu reminded us all that he was one of the best defensive players around for a month straight earlier this season, ending his sack drought with two today to give him nine on the season, which is good for 9th in the NFL. I was excited when Seattle signed him this offseason but I did not even consider the possibility of finishing top 10 in sacks within his range of outcomes.
Speaking of league leaderboards, Jordyn Brooks stacked up another nine tackles today, giving him 134 on the season, which is good for 2nd in the NFL. He had some moments, including notching his first sack of the season, but a handful of his tackles came six or seven yards downfield and that’s not ideal. Still, a good game overall.
Leading up to the season, I asked a lot of members of the Seahawks beat who they thought the breakout player would be on the defense this season and the most popular answer was Darrell Taylor. Unfortunately, that anticipation never really materialized into the type of production that would support such a notion. And while Taylor was quiet for most of the game, he had a huge sack on LA’s final drive— which let all of us finally exhale.
Tariq Woolen didn’t play cornerback until halfway through his college career and now leads the NFL in interceptions with six. His pick in this one showcased everything that makes Tariq Tariq: he gave up a step off the line of scrimmage which, while unintentional, coaxed Wolford into challenging him over the top. But Woolen’s combine-breaking speed closed the gap and his natural instincts allowed him to turn his head around in time to take advantage of his remarkable length. ‘Riq the Freak elevated to pluck the pass out of the air and turn a 30+ yard gain into a crucial turnover.
Coby Bryant got beat a couple of times in the slot but he also had two big breakups in this one. He’s a very willing tackler, and racked up five more takedowns this afternoon. On the left side, I think Mike Jackson’s time has come and gone. He got smoked a couple times early and missed a tackle on a long run in the first quarter before giving way to Tre Brown, who is finally back from injury. We didn’t hear much from the safeties in this one but I think that’s because Quandre Diggs and Ryan Neal were mostly focused on making sure no one got beat deep. They succeeded in that regard, as the bulk of Los Angeles’ gains came in the short and intermediate areas.
All in all, the defense recovered from a brutal start to be, well, okay. But we wanted to see a lot better than okay against a Rams team that was missing Matt Stafford, Cooper Kupp, Darrell Henderson, and Andrew Whitworth from the previous iterations— not to mention Allen Robinson being out as well. This was a chance to have a dominant performance and it most certainly was not that. They’ll have another chance against another shitty offense next week but in general, they need to be a lot better if this team is gonna make any real noise in January.
~Jason Myers has lowkey been one of the most valuable players on this team and has outperformed the much-maligned contract extension he signed a couple years ago. He’s now 23/24 on field goals this season, which is ridiculous, while knocking 33 of 34 extra points through the uprights for good measure. My confidence in a Seahawks kicker has never been higher.
~The Seahawks were just 4-18 on 3rd downs over their two-game losing streak, so it felt really good to see them convert five of ten today. Can’t overstate how important this is.
~Bobby Wagner damn near won that game by himself today and honestly, it made me so happy to see It. If the Rams had won based on his superhuman effort, it would have provided a nostalgic salve to a devastating loss but this is much better. Wagner hopped in the time machine to show his former team what they gave up on, registering two sacks and a vicious interception when he ripped the ball away from Jones Jr. He finished with seven tackles, three of which were in the backfield, and led the league in love received from ex-teammates. Wagner joined the Seahawks on the same day as Russell Wilson and left the same day too, but the reception he received from Seahawks players couldn’t have been more different. It’s a good thing his arms are so mighty because he set a record for hugs before and after this game. When it’s all over, he will be remembered as one of the greatest Seahawks in history and he’s about the only player that could join the R*ms and not hurt my love for him in any way.
This was a huge win, and I am not in the business of discounting any victory at the NFL level. The Seahawks are two games above .500, back inside the playoff bracket, and with the second season-ending injury to a 49ers quarterback today, still in the mix for the division title. That said, they barely beat John Wolford at the head of one of the worst active rosters in the league. This win counts as much as any of their more impressive ones but we should not fool ourselves into thinking today’s effort is enough to beat a playoff-caliber team.
Even so, the 2022 Seattle Seahawks are 7-5, which puts them way ahead of schedule as they rebuild this team into a true contender. The year has been a success almost no matter what else happens, but I’m in the mood to get a little greedy. Hope may be the enemy, but it’s also one hell of a drug. Onwards, upwards, go ‘Hawks.
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