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 struggles...in 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.
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.
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.
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.