By John Boyle
Maybe the clichés are true. Maybe a win is a win is a win, and maybe there are no ugly wins on the road in the NFL, but man, that sure felt like an ugly win, didn’t it?
The Seahawks are 7-1, including a 4-1 record on the road following Monday’s 14-9 victory in St. Louis, and let’s not overlook that very significant fact. Regardless of how Monday’s game looked, the Seahawks are in incredibly good shape heading into the second half of the season, which sees them playing a relatively soft schedule with five of eight at home.
But the Seahawks also showed they have plenty of room for growth in this at-times-sloppy victory. Thanks largely to the fact that they won the turnover battle 2-0, the Seahawks overcame being outgained 339-135, and earning just seven first downs to St. Louis’ 23, and committing 10 penalties for 83 yards.
Here’s a quick look at some things that stood out in a game that A. wasn’t an example of Seattle play at its best, but B. was still enough (barely) to produce a seventh victory.
1. Earl Thomas was everywhere.
Before the game ESPN’s Jon Gruden described Seattle’s free safety as a defensive MVP-type player, then Thomas went out and played like it. Other than a team-high 10-tackles, Thomas’ numbers weren’t gaudy, but his range was one of the reasons Seattle’s defense kept the Rams out of the end zone. Most notably, Thomas came from near the back of the end zone to stop Daryl Richardson at the 2-yard line on second-and-goal on the game’s final drive. Had Thomas not come flying in at the last moment, Richardson likely was going to score the go-ahead touchdown. Thomas was also in on the gang tackle that stopped Richardson on third-and-goal from the 1 following a penalty, with little-used linebacker/special teams standout Heath Farwell leading the way on the gang tackle.
After the game, Bruce Irvin told reporters that prior to the snap, Thomas alerted him to the wheel route that led to Irvin’s interception.
2. As good as Seattle’s D is, the run defense was surprisingly vulnerable Monday.
The Seahawks held Arizona to just 30 rushing yards last week, and have been pretty stingy against the run all year, but the Rams managed 200 on the ground, including 134 yards on 26 caries from Zac Stacy, the most the Seahawks have given up to an opposing back this season.
Yet it should also be noted that the defense was on the field for 71 plays compared to 40 plays for Seattle’s offense, so even if you didn’t like seeing the Rams and backup QB Kellen Clemens drive down the field at the end of the game, an exhausted defense deserves a lot of credit for holding on at the end.
3. Golden Tate is a playmaker. He was also a poor decision maker.
Tate scored both of Seattle’s touchdowns, including an impressive catch and run for an 80-yard score that accounted for more than half of Seattle’s total offense. Yet on that play, Tate was hit with a 15-yard penalty for a rather egregious case of taunting. Whether you find that behavior particularly offensive or not, the end result is that it cost the team 15 yards on a night when yards and field position were at a premium.
During a postgame interview on with King 5, Tate was quick to admit his mistake: “My emotions got in the way. I’ve got to be smarter.”
4. Where was Marshawn Lynch?
Seattle’s leading rusher—one of the best backs in the league—was limited to eight carries for 23 yards. Granted Seattle’s offense didn’t run a ton of plays, but when a team goes into a game knowing its pass protection is a potential weakness, and knowing the Rams have a very good pass rush, isn’t running the ball a pretty good way to keep that pass rush honest, even if that means running against a loaded box?
Carroll acknowledged in his postgame press conference that eight carries aren’t enough for Lynch, but you can’t help wonder why that wasn’t resolved during the game at some point.
5. Russell Wilson’s ball security and toughness were big reasons Seattle won.
The Seahawks hope to see more of the former for the rest of the season. Wilson, who had fumbled eight times heading into the game, didn’t put the ball on the ground once despite seven sacks and 10 quarterback hits, nor did he throw the ball up for grabs while under pressure. The Seahawks would just as soon go without seeing Wilson’s toughness tested so often, however. Even so, it’s no small feat that Wilson and the Seahawks did not turn the ball over once on a night when so little was going right for the offense.
Which brings us to…
6. Seattle’s pass protection was a disaster.
Actually, pass protection might not be a an accurate phrase given how little resistance St. Louis pass rushers faced for most of the evening. It’s to be expected that a team playing without both starting tackles will have some trouble, but Robert Quinn and Chris Long, who each had three sacks, had way to many free runs at Wilson. At one point, ESPN missed showing a Quinn sack live because they had yet to come back from a replay of a Quinn sack.
Seattle’s pass protection will obviously get better when Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini return, but the Seahawks need to figure out a way to improve in the meantime to keep their offense functioning and keep their quarterback healthy.
J.R. Sweezy also had some early issues with penalties, getting flagged with two drive-killers on Seattle’s first two possessions, penalties that cost the Seahawks 27 yards on the two plays.
And finally, if I can end with a quick rant since we’re on the topic of penalties. I brought this topic up last year at some point too, but why does the NFL allow officials to throw a flag, then announce the penalty as “hit on a defenseless receiver.” Hitting a defenseless receiver is not a penalty. Hitting him in the head/neck area is. So is leading with the crown of the helmet. But just hitting him? Nope. Yet twice, that was the explanation we got from referee Gene Steratore following flags.
And here’s the thing, I’m not against rules geared towards improving player safety, nor am I arguing whether those particular plays were or weren’t penalties. What I do want to see, however, is officials having to explain why that play was a foul. Tell us what you saw. Was it helmet to helmet? Great, say that. Did he lead with the crown of his helmet? OK then. Maybe replays will prove you wrong, but when all we hear is “hit on a defenseless receiver” that makes it seem like officials are just throwing a flag because they saw a hard hit. Often defensive players complain the game’s ever-evolving safety rules make their jobs impossible. This type of non-explanation only adds fuel to that complaint, something the league should be trying to avoid as it continues to try to make the game safer.