Sunday, September 30, 2012

A positive outlook on the Rams loss

UPDATED to include third-down efficiency in the "Ugly" section. Completely escaped my mind when I wrote this.

Seahawks fans were writing this team's loss narrative before the team even got on the plane to St. Louis. Short week. Trap game. Distraction from the Packers win. These are the things that will get labeled as the culprits for the loss, but it won't be accurate. The real reasons are the same ones that have been plaguing the team from Week 1: penalties, WR gaffes, red-zone struggles, Wilson's usual a word, youth.

It's also important to acknowledge our assumptions that the Rams were still garbage and that Sam Bradford was still in his sophomore slump. That's the danger of carrying over assumptions from last year. It bites us all in the ass. The thinking was that we should have been sacking Bradford and picking his passes off all day, and that any failure to do so was an indictment of the Seahawks since, hey, Bradford's still a wreck. Instead, the Rams are good this year. Bradford is emerging, his chemistry with his receivers is showing up, and he finally has a veteran coach who gets him.

With the 49ers lambasting the Jets on the road today, the verdict is out: the NFC West is a tough, experienced, competitive division this year and might be that way for a long time.

All that said, this loss was the swallowable sort if we're looking purely at the game and not its playoff implications. We lost by six points and limited the Rams' touchdowns to a trick play. Those six points all came in a dome from a Rams kicker whose iron legs probably could have held up the Tacoma Narrows bridge. Against most teams, this game goes to overtime.

I actually saw quite a few improvements today from the Seahawks, signs of progress. They didn't lead to a win, but neither is this team a "train wreck" that has Pete Carroll on coaches' death row. We saw Seattle stick to its identity, play the run and underrated defense against a good game plan by the Rams, and in the end, lose because we couldn't deliver the final play. We might see a lot of that until our offense clicks.

Of course, I wasn't one of the ones thinking "Super Bowl Now", so my expectations - and thus my current state of mine - are different. If you wanted Seattle to contend this year, you might be frustrated. But this was a downer game for me too, because in all likelihood, Seattle lost the division today. It'll be hard to come back from a 0-2 division record.

I'm really starting to like the "optimism" thing, so I'mma start with the ugly.

The Ugly

Third-down efficiency: Much of this goes on the plays being drawn up, but the Seahawks have regressed on third down efficiency almost to the point of being worse than Tarvaris Jackson. Against Arizona, Russell Wilson made a couple of awesome third-down plays, including the 3rd-and-9 touchdown to Sidney Rice, who was his third read on the play. We know he can do this, or at least we don't know that he's incapable of making it consistent. Seattle's offensive playbook, meanwhile, is still rudimentary.
Breno Giacomini: I said this earlier in the year, but boy does that guy bug me. It was only a matter of time until his gangsta attitude showed up at the wrong time. Everyone knew we had penalty problems, but nobody really seemed to lay any of them on him. He was directly responsible for killing two crucial drives today (one was questionable). If I'm Pete today, I bench Giacomini (just to send a message, mind you) and either trust Paul "Cable Army Knife" McQuistan on the edge or just run left all day against Carolina. (We can do that now, which I'll address later). Impossible to ignore, and impossible to accept.

Mike Martz as announcer: I'd rather be kicked in the nuts than listen to that Rams homer again. Trying to reclaim some lost self-esteem by bragging how "good" his former team looked. What an oaf.

The Bad

Third-down secondary: This belongs in the "bad" category, not the "ugly", but it was bad. Those who think Seattle's defense is the worst in the league at getting off the field on third down, might be interested to know that they did it seven times. It's not their fault that the edge of Greg Zuerlein's field-goal range is Topeka. They also recorded five three-and-outs, allowed the Rams only two red-zone possessions, and recorded an interception from Richard "Short Memory" Sherman that mitigated the big reception he allowed to Chris Givens immediately before.

I guarantee you that we wouldn't be all that jazzed about our offense if ours looked like that. Good test of our perception as fans: If you think your D was bad, ask yourself how you'd feel if you were fans of the other team.

It looked like a bad day for the defense, and it was frustrating to see so many 3rd-down-and-Neptune conversions given up, but that's what a well-executed dink-and-dunk QB will do to you. St. Louis smartly kept Bradford within the quick-passing game that fits him best, neutralizes pass rush, and will make him a contender if anything ever does. He's promising real mastery in that strategy. That accounts for a lot of the pain today, not just Seattle's secondary laying eggs (although Sherman is definitely out of his element playing off coverage and the unit did take a step down from Green Bay). We're allowing 0.5 passing touchdowns per game this year against some incredible quarterbacks. I don't even want to know what that number was in 2009.

A quick note: To be honest, you're likely to see a lot of dink-and-dunk this year as the league starts shifting towards efficient passing styles rather than deep-bomb games. Bradford looked lost last week because he was trying to play like Jay Cutler, not because he faced a worse pass rush today. EVERY team plays zone coverage during certain downs. Every team. The result today was that Bradford, like Romo, rose to the challenge and put together some drives. Credit him; don't bag on the Legion of Boom.

Red zone defense: Yeah, our red-zone defense allowed ten points on both possessions. The trick play was especially painful. But our criticism here is inconsistent too. We're not satisfied with holding the other offense to field goals, but when OUR offense is the one settling for three, suddenly it's a good thing for THAT defense? Which is it, folks?

Pass rush: I'm defending the defense a lot today. Our edge rush certainly vanished into thin air, and that's seriously frustrating against tackles like Wayne Hunter. That gave up several long completions. The Rams' quick-rhythm passing game helped take our edge rushers out of the play. The interior rush was there, and that's the more crucial component anyway. But Bruce Irvin does need to start showing up on the road. This was, sad to say, predictable.

That onside kick to start the second half: Big gamble that didn't pay off, but we'd be crowing about it otherwise and you all know it. Tough luck that it led to a 60-yard field goal.

Russell Wilson's overthrows: Golden Tate was trying to be clutch in the final drive but had two important passes sail waaaay over his head. Cringeworthy.

Marshawn Lynch's block on Wilson's second pick: Seemed to just give up on the protection. Or maybe he wasn't expecting Wilson to stay in the pocket. We sure weren't.

Doug Baldwin: Showed up today in the BAD manner. Wilson's first interception went right through Baldwin's hands. What happened to this guy carving out holes in coverage?

Jon Ryan: Left Seattle in poor field position a couple times.

The Good

We didn't panic on offense: True, we were never down by that much, but credit Pete and Bevell for not giving up on the run. It's the key to this offense's momentum right now, and today it supplied a lot of it on multiple drives (6.1 YPC). Very glad to see how Pete handles turnovers once they start happening; Kearly spoke well when he said that the running attack can also serve as damage control during losses. It was also encouraging to see Seattle call more running plays to the left after being somewhat unbalanced for a while, which leads me to...

James Carpenter: I thought he was an immediate upgrade to this offensive line. Better blocking on the left, also opened a couple of much-needed interior passing lanes for Wilson to find Zach Miller early on. That's going to be huge for Wilson's development. He looks so much more natural on the left, I'm surprised that Pete didn't just stick him there immediately upon drafting him. Maybe the right tackle position was just really hurting back then, too.

Seattle scored early: This was huge. The opening drive was a thing of beauty - balanced, well-executed, and some good improvisation by Wilson. We need more of that in order to set the tone in games.

Wilson trying to stay home: The Flynnsquawkers will see nothing but Wilson's three interceptions, but ironically enough, on all three picks he was staying in the pocket. Pretty microscopic pocket on the second one, hard to fault him for shifting left, but I'll leave the blame allocation to others on that one. It showed that at least Wilson's making an effort to stay home, and could have made two big completions had not Doug Baldwin and Anthony McCoy slipped up both times. He was back up to 6.4 YPA, had a 68% completion rate today, and still looks nothing like Tarvaris Jackson. Sorry haters.

Robert Turbin: Had a great first game as a legitimate cog, gaining 45 yards on six hard-fought carries. That guy's speed is real. I can't tell you how encouraging it is to have TWO similarly roughnecked running backs. It will keep our rushing style intact if one goes down to injury, instead of losing one prong of a two-pronged attack.

Run defense: Just another day for that brick wall. Daryl Richardson didn't have the breakout game some were looking for, and Steven Jackson...nope, still looking for that elusive 100-yard game against Seattle. He's running out of time to do it.

Leon Washington: Finally, breaking off a big return. Been getting worried about that guy.

Russell Okung: Poor Russell. Just like being a CIA agent, you get noticed only when you fail.


As far as the Wilson question: I think we Seattle fans could take a lesson from Sam Bradford today. He's taken two full seasons and a lot of frustration to get where he is. And I'm sure during that time, a lot of Rams fans were curious where he would end up. This year, things are clicking, but it's taken some time.

We could look elsewhere in the division, too. Alex Smith figured himself out. I'm starting to wonder whether Kevin Kolb might pull it out after all.

Or look at Peyton Manning's first four NFL games. 3 TD, 11 INT, 55% completion rate, 0-4 start. If I'm a Colts fan back in 1998, I might be absolutely flipping out over that. At the very least, I wouldn't be all that confident that Manning will ever amount to much. He turned out all right.

But it took time. Are we prepared for the long haul? Were we really expecting a Pro Bowl quarterback in the first season? I don't think it works like that. There should be stepping stones, but it might be a couple years before Wilson fully "gets it". Are we ready for that? Meanwhile, he's keeping games in hand (always a positive accomplishment, lest we forget 2009-2010's offense) against the #9, #7, #5, and #6 DVOA pass defenses, without a true #1 receiver or security blanket. The defenses get markedly easier starting this week.

Today's game screamed youth. Youth shows up in the red zone, it shows up in penalties, and it shows up in lack of discipline, inconsistency, execution. I wouldn't say the offense is set - a couple more years of roster - churning are due - but this was a youth game. The Rams are young, too, but they have the more developed quarterback and frankly they didn't look that much better today anyway. It also screamed Pete "Everything But Passing Offense" Carroll. Some have called this a "fluke" loss, but we're going to have a lot of fluke losses as long as we lack consistency in the passing game. We'll be riding a razor's edge every game, winning or losing on tough breaks and individual plays, until Wilson gets it. That's the nature of Pete's strategy.

So yeah. This year might be quite the roller coaster.


  1. I'm definitely content to just let this season kinda ride and enjoy watching the growth. This team is a few pieces short of 'prime' - some better depth or skill at RT would be nice, some DL and LB depth, and I think most importantly some swag out of our WR position would be really nice. Those first few are all attainable in the short term. WRs take time, so we may have to keep fishing there in free agency, but the window's still wide open for this team and I'd be happy with 9-7, I'd be thrilled with 10 wins, and I'd be giddy at a playoff run.

    "Meanwhile, he's keeping games in hand (always a positive accomplishment, lest we forget 2009-2010's offense) against the #9, #7, #5, and #6 DVOA pass defenses,"

    Jesus, I didn't even realize this.

  2. One play that really concerned me was the play where Wilson didn't see Miller wide open on a play where he threw it away out of the end zone. I don't remember exactly when the play occurred, but hopefully you know which one I'm talking about.

    Any thoughts on that play?

  3. I don't know about you guys, but against Carolina im seriously considering going with:

    Okung - Carp - Unger - Moffit - McQuistan

  4. Along with what you already mentioned what the hell were we doing going empty backfield on 3rd and 2 yards??? We were running it quite well beforehand. Why the hell not stick it up the gut with Lynch again? We missed getting the first down on the throw and drive stalled. That play call really bugged me....

    1. I completely agree Lynch has been avg over 4 a yac and turbin was busting them to. 3-1 3-2 Just pound it over the left side.

    2. It's not just that time, it seems to be EVERY third down they go with an empty backfield. Teams then check to automatic blitzes and Wilson doesn't beat it and usually gets creamed by it. Wilson doesn't seem to see it and check to a quicker WR route. The WR routes being run are taking too long to combat the blitz. The play calling is getting ridiculous.

  5. Bobby Wagner is starting to show-up all over the field. (I've been insane over the 3-man rush on 3rd and long and the no run on 3rd & short enough) He's getting a feel for it and speeding up his game. He led the Seahawks in tackles this week and there's no looking back on that I'd bet. Of course Turbin was amazing. I have no problem with how they played this week. All my grief this week is on play calling. Offense, Defense, Special Teams.

    1. ^This. Bevell seriously needs to pull his head out of his ass. 2 for 10 on 3rd down is what killed us. That's it. I thought we played pretty well actually aside from that.

  6. Nice post, all valid points. Not sure I agree with the overall optimism, but you lay out a fair case.

    I'm confused about the part where you say Wilson looks nothing like Tarvaris Jackson, in an attempt to defend RW. If anything, Jackson looks better than Wilson at this point; as bad as TJack was on 3rd downs, he's better than RW. I suppose Wilson is better in the two-minute offense, but he's fallen short twice, compared to one late (questionable) victory.

    Or did you mean something else that I didn't quite catch, especially in noting Wilson's completion percentage and YPA?

    1. I don't think the failure on 3rd down had anything to do with Wilson. The play calling was atrocious. I don't understand Bevell's thinking. You're picking up 5-6 yards per carry, all day long, so on 3rd and 2 or 3 you're passing it? Or worse, calling a QB draw?

      The only thing I can come up with is that he wanted to fool the D. That's fine, once or twice. But not as many times as he called it yesterday. 3rd and 2 I'll take my chances with Lynch up the gut almost every time.

    2. I shouldn't say it had nothing to do with Wilson. He could have been better. But I'm putting most the blame on the play calling.

    3. It's not all about stats. Wilson is far ahead of Jackson in a ton of technical aspects. Field vision, read progressions, horizontal accuracy, not throwing each and every receiver into brutal collisions. There's a lot there.

    4. I agree stats aren't everything. I am just confused that you judge Wilson _ahead_ of TJack last year.

      I haven't seen Wilson do well on read progressions: he seems to not see open receivers, and he seems to get happy feet a lot. He rolls out deeper when facing pressure (he did that at Wisconsin too, but had enough comparative speed then to get away with it). He overthrows receivers, no collisions but also few completions.

      I acknowledge Wilson does have a couple of really pretty plays each game. Jackson often didn't.

      I don't have time to break down tape, and I value your judgment, so perhaps I can buy that his technical skills are improving even as the end results haven't shown it yet. But for me that's a case of belief and hope, rather than anything tangible.

  7. Ill be the first to admit- I completely blew my top yesterday. I flipped out and overreacted.

    One-That fake FG had me throwing things at my TV. What a ballsy, absolutely brilliant call from Fisher.

    Two-That kicker makes Josh Brown look like a AYSO soccer player. That kid needs to be drug tested. Are his legs real or bionic? WTF!

    Three-Carroll got out-schemed, and his testosterone got the best of him-After giving up the easy fake FG to the Rams, Carroll trys the surprise onside kick-To no avail. A dumb call in hindsight, since one less field goal by them, and one more by us, could have led to overtime, at least. Face it beat-Fisher beat you.

    That being said, I recall all the horrible things I said about Wilson. We gotta stick with it, and lower our expectations that were artificially inflated like the stock market after QE1-3. 8-8 is starting to look like a win for us maybe.

  8. On the website, you made a comment saying ”we always knew wilson's height would have to be schemed around”.

    Thats not true. The Wilson-lovers said his height would NEVER be an issue.

    The wilson-lovers said that at wisconsin his OL was really tall so it wouldnt be a problem for him in the NFL.

    In another thread you also made the comment ”we all knew that he would struggle as a rookie” and that is also not true. You and the rest of the wilson-lovers said he would hit th ground running and we would never look back. You and the others said that Wilson would probably outperform Luck but miss out on ROY because Luck was the #1 pick.

    There is A LOT of revisionist history going on right now by the pro-wilson crowd. Before the season started it was all ”Russell is going to make every other team wish they had drafted him.”

    Instead we have the worst passing offense.

    Wilson is not playing AT ALL like his supporters said he would. So please stop pretending that you and the rest of his supporters had low expectations for him this year.

    Many of you even thought Super Bowl contender THIS YEAR with Wilson leading the team.

    Sorry, the Pro-Flynn crowd was right, and the pro-wilson crowd was wrong

    1. And that might mean something if fan opinion had one iota of influence on what happens on the field.

  9. Brandon, where's the new post about the Panther's game? Come on, you're killing us! :)