Five takeaways from the Seahawks’ loss in St. Louis

For the first time since the middle of the 2012 season, the Seahawks lost consecutive games thanks to their 28-26 loss to the St. Louis Rams, who before Sunday were a one-win team.

Worse, the loss caps a week in which a starting receiver went on a profanity-laced rant following the previous weekend’s loss, an All-Pro safety said the defense had character issues, and then on Friday, one of the team’s most talented players was traded. It’s way too soon to panic and say this season is over, but it’s definitely time for the Seahawks to look in the mirror and figure out what’s going on. With 10 games left in the season, the Seahawks still have plenty of time to fix things, but through six games, it’s clear they’re not close to being on the same level as the team that went 13-3 and won the Super Bowl last season.

Here are five takeaways from Sunday’s loss:

1. Special teams play was a disaster

The Seahawks have a board outside their locker room they use to grade their special teams play. For each category they do well in (“score or set up a score,” for example) a Seahawks helmet is placed in a box. After last week’s game, the Seahawks were a perfect 12 for 12; this week it’s safe to assume that won’t be the case. A week after special teams play was the only reason the Seahawks were in a game they would eventually lose to Dallas, special teams was the main reason they lost to St. Louis.

A simple breakdown in kick coverage, which allowed for a 75-yard return, would have been bad enough, but what made Sunday’s performance even more embarrassing was that the Rams twice made the Seahawks look foolish with trick plays, one resulting in a 90-yard punt return, and the other allowing the Rams to convert on a fake punt late in the game when the Seahawks thought they were going to get a the ball back for a chance at a game-winning drive.

And if the Rams were able to set up that crazy punt return touchdown because they knew the Seahawks always kick left when trying to down punts inside the 20, why didn’t anyone on Seattle’s coverage team know that when the Rams fake like the ball was going the other direction?

2. The offense showed encouraging signs about life after Harvin

Getting rid of a player as talented as Percy Harvin is a risky move, and doing so two days before a game, after Harvin had practice that week, could be a recipe for a disaster in the short term. Throw in the other injuries—Seattle started Cooper Helfet at tight end, was again without starting center Max Unger, and Derrick Coleman, the only fullback on the roster, broke his foot in pregame warm-ups—and this could have been a disastrous game for Seattle’s offense. And sure enough, the offense struggled in the first half, punting on three of five possessions while settling for field goals on the other two. But after the Seahawks stalled out again on the first possession of the second half, they caught fire and nearly completed a huge comeback by scoring on touchdown drives of 82, 91 and 80 yards on their final three possessions.

Russell Wilson finished the day 23 for 36 for 313 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 106 mare yards, including a 19-yard score. The Seahawks got a huge game out of Doug Baldwin, a surprising 6-catch, 61 yard game out of Helfet, including a spectacular 19-yard touchdown catch, and they got back to feeding Marshawn Lynch. Yes Lynch ended up with only 53 yards on 18 carries, but he had several big runs nullified by penalties, and most significant was the fact that he got those 18 carries, a sign the offense is getting back to what it does best.

As Baldwin told reporters after the game, the offense “Got back on right track.”

And along those lines…

3. Doug Baldwin backed up his talk

If you’re going to rip your offense with a lot of colorful language after a loss, you’d better be able to back those words up on the field, and Doug Baldwin did just that against the Rams, catching seven passes for 123 yards and a touchdown a week after saying, “The offense can’t (expletive) move the ball. We’ve got too much (expletive) talent over here not to be moving the ball… Our offense, we’re just too (expletive) good not to be moving the ball down the field.”

Had the Seahawks come back to win Sunday’s game, Baldwin’s 19-yard catch on third-and-17, a play that helped set up an eventually Wilson touchdown run, would have been one of the game’s defining plays.

4. The defense has work to do

Richard Sherman was asked last week about Seattle’s defense, which statistically has not played close to as well as last year’s team. He said, “I think it’s been fine. I think we’ve played good football.” And while there are reasons for Seattle’s defensive numbers being off this season, from good opponents to teams taking a more conservative approach against the defense that led the league in takeaways last season, the defense has not “been fine.” It’s one thing for a good defense to get beat by Philip Rivers on a brutally hot day, or to let Peyton Manning drive 80-yards for a game-tying score, it’s something else when the Seahawks can’t get a crucial fourth-quarter stop against the Austin Davis-led Rams. Had the defense been able to get a stop instead of allowing an 8-play, 80-yard touchdown drive, there’s a good chance the Seahawks would have won considering how well the offense was playing in the second half. The Seahawks lost some important players from last year’s defense, now injuries are taking a toll, and for the time being at least, this is not the league’s best or most feared defense anymore. If the pass rush picks up, and if the turnovers start to come—and those two things are very much related—there is still plenty of talent for this defense to dominate once again.

5. Penalties are an issue for this team

Yes the Seahawks won the Super Bowl last season while being the NFL’s most penalized teams, but so far this season, they aren’t good enough to overcome mistakes like they did last year. There are certainly some questions to be asked about the officiating, from some of the calls against Seattle to the baffling decision to not at least look at the recovery on the Rams’ fumble late in the game.

“We’re playing more than our opponent,” safety Earl Thomas told reporters after the game. “We’re playing the referees too. I don’t care what anyone is saying. Something’s wrong. It needs to be brought up.”

But questionable officiating aside, the Seahawks hurt themselves plenty often. Most notably, the Seahawks had five penalties called against the offensive line, a delay of game call on Russell Wilson, and two penalties on cornerback Tharold Simon, who was making his NFL debut, which helped sustain a St. Louis second-quarter drive that ended with a touchdown. At some point the Seahawks might be playing well enough to overcome 10 penalties for 89 yards, but right now they aren’t.

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