The Seahawks lost at home! It finally happened! Not only that, but it was a close game! Back during the Seahawks bye I predicted that the Seahawks were likely going to lose a few close games if only because close games generally come down to chance. In other words, there are simply too many factors left up to chance in close games for any team to consistently triumph (though good quarterbacks have a slight tendency to win more often in close contests).
If you're thinking, "Well, it's good the Seahawks lost at home now instead of the playoffs," I recommend you don't. That kind of thinking is a variant of the gambler's fallacy. If anything, I would think opposing teams would be more afraid of the CLink had the Seahawks not lost. It's not like the Seahawks had some predetermined number of losses they had to meet during the season and now that lessens their chance of losing in the playoffs. No, now other teams have hope.
There's also the argument that the Seahawks' needed to learn a lesson. Namely, that no game is decided before kickoff and that every opponent deserves championship effort. That's fine, but I would challenge people who believe this to find evidence suggesting the team didn't play with great effort. Moreover, the team has already had a shocker against Tampa Bay and lost before. I find it hard to believe that Seattle hadn't already learned to take Arizona seriously.
As for the recap, the game was pretty disappointing (for Seattle fans). The game was close, but this was the only game where I felt like the Seahawks were evenly matched or outplayed. Say what you want about the game against the Rams, but the offensive line was incredibly injured that game and the Rams' offense is not good (more on that later). The Cardinals on the other hand, moved the ball, and stone-walled the Seahawks' offense. They're a legit team and Seattle doesn't have too many excuses (yes, balls don't bounce that way off of flesh, I get it).
As disappointing as that game is though, I'm really not too upset. The Seahawks are still the best team in the league, and losing to a good opponent is never too disheartening. If the Seahawks win this week, then they still get home field, and any bad feelings from this game will melt away (at least for me). Heck, the Seahawks could lose and still be fine. Seattle is in a good place, and it's been a hell of a season.
This next section allows readers to assess how well my predictions have played out. As always, this post will rely heavily on stats (all stats through week 15), mostly from football outsiders. You can read more here.
On to the recap!
Where my predictions were right!
· Rashard Mendenhall would not have success and around 50 yards.
· A few turnovers for Palmer/the offense.
· Andre Ellington would have around 50 yards.
· Marshawn Lynch would run for around 65 yards.
· Russell would run for around 30 yards.
Where my predictions were wrong.
· Doug Baldwin would have a good day.
· Luke Willson would have a good day.
· Russell would have around 200 yards and a couple of touchdowns.
· The score would be around 34-14
Somewhere in between.
· The Seahawks would have better field position.
At a Glance
The final regular season game for the Seahawks - at home no less. Interestingly, the same team finishes the Seahawks' regular season as last. The St. Louis Rams of course, lost their quarterback in the middle of the season. Sam Bradford was playing well before he was injured, and many - me included - assumed the Rams would collapse. Instead they continued essentially where they left off.
The Seahawks and the Rams know each other well and this game should be physical - at the least. Can the Rams upset the Seahawks? Will the offense be shut down by what are two of the better pass rushers in the league once again? These and other questions are ones the Seahawks are going to have to answer if they want to win on Sunday.
The Saint Louis Rams
The Saint Louis Rams' Offense
We all know the Rams. They are a tough as nails team that wants to dominate a team in the way that teams did years ago. The most paramount position in the offense is still the quarterback, but they rely on their muscle-tank running back to wear down opponents. They still try and sprinkle in blue whale passes, but the running game is the most important factor in their offense.
For those who didn't get the reference, Zac Stacy is the muscle tank. He's a good running back. Despite not starting at the beginning of the season, Stacy is 11th in the league in rushing attempts (235). His raw stats aren't overly impressive at just 4.1 yards per carry, but he's likely been the focus of opposing defenses, and his line hasn't played great.
On an efficiency note, Stacy ranks 15th in DVOA (one behind Marshawn Lynch). I'll get to it in the matchups section, but given that he already has 958 yards, he'll likely make 1,000. Perhaps surprisingly, the Rams' rushing offense isn't ranked well in DVOA. Their rushing offense ranks just 28th in the league. The reason they're ranked so low is because they haven't played a tough schedule in terms of rush defense. In fact, many of the worst teams against the run in the league have played the Rams the season including, Atlanta, Dallas, Jacksonville, Chicago, and the Saints. Zac Stacy is a keeper, but the rest of the crew might not be.
Zac Stacy is certainly impressive, and going forward I think he's a player the Rams can build around. However, despite that position being locked up, the quarterback is still the most important position. Sadly, Bradford was injured this year - his best year yet. Fortunately, Kellen Clemens has been serviceable. By serviceable I mean just OK. Clemens ranks 26th in the league in passer rating (80.6), and 24th in DVOA.
Catching passes from mister average are some nice receivers. Chris Givens remains a dangerous deep threat with 34 catches for 569 yards (16.7 y/c). Leading the team is Jared Cook with 46 receptions for 641 yards (13.9 y/c). Tavon Austin has quietly had a decent season with 40 catches for 418 yards (10.5 y/c), and Austin Pettis is right behind at 36 catches for 384 yards (10.7). After those receivers there are a number of other players with descending catches and yards. In all, the passing offense ranks 21st in passing DVOA. The total offense comes in at rank 23 in DVOA.
Saint Louis Rams' Defense
The last time I wrote about the Rams defense it was ranked a low 27th. Since that time, they've risen up the ranks up to their current 12th. I don't follow each team every week and I certainly don't track trends for teams other than the Seahawks. However, despite my ignorance, I would be willing to bet that the rise in ranking from 27th to 12th (7th weighted), is among the greatest rises all year.
That ranking might make the Seahawks' struggles in St. Louis more understandable now that we know how good they really are. Back then, neither of their components were rated particularly well. Their passing defense was ranked 30th and their rushing defense was ranked 16th (both by DVOA). Now, they rank 15th and 4th respectively. It's been a wholesale improvement, although maybe not completely obvious. For more traditional stats, the Rams rank in the middle of the pack (17th) in total yards, and points per game allowed (13th).
I think Seattle fans know the highlights of the Rams defense. Chris Long and Robert Quinn form the best 4-3 pass rushing duo in the league. Together they have over 25 sacks and they contribute to the lion's share of the best ranked team by adjusted sack rate. Long and Quinn aren't alone either, Kendall Langford has had a nice year, as has Michael Brockers who looks like he's going to be a nice player for a while. Williams Hayes has also been a nice player.
Complimenting those players are James Laurinaitis and Alec Ogletree at the linebacker spots and the secondary has worked well off the pressure created by the defensive line. This is a very good defense and one the Seahawks should take very seriously.
As always, you should check out the advanced stats piece from Kenneth.
For the nitty gritty, the Seahawks rank 1st overall in DVOA. They rank 8th in total offense with the pass ranked 7th and the rush offense ranked 8th. On defense, Seattle ranks 1st. Their pass defense ranks first and remains the strength of the team and the rush defense ranks 10th.
The biggest weakness on the team remains the pass protection. As of now the Seahawks rank dead last in adjusted sack rate, and frankly, it's pretty spot on. I still think that the pass protection has improved dramatically since the tackles has returned, but I think offensive line is the highest priority going into the offseason.
Saint Louis Rams' Offense vs the Seahawks Defense
In the last game against the Rams I predicted that the Seahawks' defense would stymie the Rams' offense. That game was either the first or second game with Clemens at the helm and Zac Stacy hadn't played very much at that point. After some time we've crystallized some information about the offense. Zac Stacy is the real deal. Clemens is serviceable, but not great. Most importantly, we've learned that the Rams are a tough team that has a lot of talent, but just needs a few players or some improvement to put things together.
Unfortunately for Rams fans, "putting things together" is usually code for a good quarterback. Sam Bradford remains one of the more intriguing players to watch this offseason but he was playing very well. Clemens, not so much, and against the Seahawks he should do even worse.
Against the Seahawks, Clemens threw for 158 yards with a 48% completion percentage and two picks. He didn't play well. Now he's lost his starting left tackle, he's playing in the CLink, and incredibly the Seahakws' defense has improved since the last meeting.
That game the Seahawks sacked Clemens 3 times and applied consistent pressure throughout the game. Considering Seattle is at home, I'm confident predicting 5 or more sacks and another round of consistent pressure. That should make completing passes for Clemens difficult and he shouldn't eclipse the last games totals. Around 140 yards and a few picks are on the way.
Catching his passes will be a combination of players, none of which will stand out. I'll predict that Chris Givens will have the most success with around 50 yards, but aside from him, I think most of the pass catchers will finish with around 30 yards.
The pass catchers shouldn't play particularly well against Seattle but the element that really hurt the Seahawks in the last game was the run game of St. Louis. Zac Stacy ran through the defense and Daryl Richardson was oddly efficient. In this game, I'll suggest some regression to the mean. The injured St. Louis line should struggle against the Seahawks' defensive front. I'll still guess around 70 or 80 yards for Stacy, but Richardson should struggle and the Rams run game should be significantly worse.
In sum, the Rams offense should be stifled this game, and you shouldn't expect another anomalous performance from Stacy.
The Seahawks' Offense vs Saint Louis Rams' Defense
Once again, this to me is the more interesting test. As we saw in the last game, Robert Quinn and Chris Long were able to effectively shut down the offense. On running plays they would glide through the defense and stop Marshawn Lynch before he could get started. Then on passing plays they would careen around the corners of the line and cause havoc.
Considering how effective the Rams' pass rush and run defense have been this year, the fact that they rank only 15th suggests that their secondary play is at least below average. If opponents can't run the ball efficiently or protect the passer then the secondary members should be afforded an opportune situation. The fact that they don't rank higher in DVOA or have more interceptions/pass deflections makes Golden Tate, Jermaine Kearse, and Doug Baldwin more viable as targets.
Of course the problem is likely not with Baldwin, Tate or Kearse, and while I didn't study their performances in the last Rams game, I doubt they had terrible games then either. It's obvious that the pass rush and its interruption is the real problem. Considering how much more effective the offensive line has been in pass protection since the tackles have come back, I think it's reasonable to think the offensive line will hold up better than before.
Despite the offensive line's improvement in pass protection, I think it's fair to say that they've struggled in run blocking. After a few weeks of struggling in run protection, Seattle played pretty effectively against an unforgiving Arizona defense. I'm tempted to use that game as evidence of improvement, but I think the sample size is too small to make any sweeping generalizations.
If the Seahawks play well again, then I think we can be optimistic, but as Danny O'Neil pointed out Russell Okung has been playing injured. If we continue to think they're struggling in run blocking, then I think a game similar to the game against Arizona is likely. Lynch will have something around 80 yards with less than 4.0 yards per carry.
What the offense will come down to is Russell Wilson and his performance. In the last game, he was forced into sacks, forced to throw away, and forced to run more than he wanted. In the end, he had just enough of an impact to win, but with improved protection I think he can do better. I think he can reach around 200 yards with a couple of touchdowns - no picks. Baldwin and Tate will do well with around 60 yards or so and the rest of the crew will fill out the rest of the catches.
Seattle's offensive line. It's all up to them. We saw what happens when they can't hold up in protection against great pass rushers and it wasn't pretty.
Zac Stacy/Rams' running game. If Zac Stacy plays well again, then the Rams could have another good shot at beating the Seahawks. Though, the defensive line would have to play well too.
This will be another tough game. The Seahawks will play better on offense in this game than in the last meeting with the Rams. They won't need a spectacular Golden Tate catch to score points (though it would help), and Lynch should produce better. On defense the Seahawks should play well and shut down the Rams' offense. Given their special teams advantage, and their defensive performance, the Seahawks should score a number of field goals, but not as many touchdowns as they would like. Still, the Seahawks will give the fans a gift for the holidays.
Prediction: Seahawks win 23-13
This section is dedicated to me owning up to my predictions. The predictions are graded on a 10 point scale where 1 is completely wrong and 10 is completely right. As always, if anyone submits their own grades of my predictions I'll include them in the average. Further, if YOU, the reader, include predictions in this format, I'll include them as "The Field."
Where my predictions were right!
· Rashard Mendenhall would not have success rushing for around 50 yards. - 8 - This was pretty spot on.
· A few turnovers for Palmer/the offense. - 7 - I underestimated the number of turnovers, but I was close.
· Andre Ellington would have around 50 yards. - 7.5 - I receive minus points for missing on his effectiveness.
· Marshawn Lynch would run for around 65 yards. - 8.5 - Off by a tad here, but I underestimated Lynch's effectiveness.
· Russell would run for around 30 yards. - 9.5 - This may be my first 10 all year.
Where my predictions were wrong.
· Doug Baldwin would have a good day. - 2 - This would be correct if you considered one catch on six targets - for eight yards- good.
· Luke Willson would have a good day. - 2 - Ditto for Willson.
· Russell would have around 200 yards and a couple of touchdowns. - 3 - He had one touchdown, but little else was correct here.
Somewhere in between.
· The Seahawks would have better field position. - 5 - They did for the most part, though had they played more effectively on offense they would have really corned the Cardinals.
This Week's Average: 6.5625
Total Average: is experiencing issues in transit (my transit) - sorry!