Three takeaways from the Seahawks’ 25-20 loss to the Saints

Here’s three takeaways from the Seattle Seahawks’ 25-20 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday:

1) Penalties/officiating had an impact.

The Seahawks were flagged 11 times for 76 yards. The Saints were whistled for just two penalties for 10 yards. There’s no question that discrepancy played a role in the outcome of the game.

Most of those Seattle penalties came in the first half, when the Seahawks had seven penalties for 50 yards, while the Saints had none. After the game Seahawks coach Pete Carroll acknowledged Seattle had too many penalties, and that the offensive ones took the team out of rhythm. Given those circumstances it’s remarkable the Seahawks went into halftime leading 14-13.

However, maybe the two biggest officiating moments came in the fourth quarter on non-calls against New Orleans receiver Willie Snead. Twice Snead set picks for Brandin Crooks in the second half that led to Saints points. First, Snead blocked Jeremy Lane on Crooks’ 2-yard touchdown slant that gave New Orleans a 22-17 lead early in the fourth quarter. Then Snead picked Lane for Crooks on what ended up being a 20-yard reception on third-and-five that set up Wil Lutz’s 41-yard field goal, which forced Seattle to play for a touchdown at the game’s end. On both plays it looked as though offensive pass interference could have been called, and on both plays the Seahawks pleaded for a flag that never came. Those non-calls could easily have been the difference in the game as they could have accounted for three points each — the first could have forced New Orleans to settle for a field goal instead of a touchdown, and the second could have resulted in a punt instead of a field goal.

2) Where’s the running game?

Seattle finished the game with just 74 yards rushing on 17 attempts. It was the fourth straight game in which the Seahawks finished with 74 or fewer rushing yards, as well as the third straight game in which Seattle had at least 10 more passing plays than running plays (36-17 on Sunday).

Since Carroll became coach in 2010 the Seahawks have been the most run-heavy team in the NFL. However, Carroll has stressed this season that Seattle was never a run-first offense, it was always a balanced offense. But where is that balance? On Sunday the Seahawks ran the ball just three times for three yards in the first half, as opposed to 16 pass plays. Seattle seemed to get back on track at the start of the second half, running the ball seven straight times with success (43 yards), leading to a field goal and giving the defense a breather after it was on the field nearly 22 minutes during the first half. But after that the run was again put in the back pocket and forgotten.

No, Russell Wilson isn’t completely healthy and is therefore unable to be as much a part of the run game as he was in the past. No, Christine Michael is not Marshawn Lynch. But Seattle needs its running game back at something resembling its old self, and Thomas Rawls can’t return from his cracked fibula fast enough.

3) Michael Bennett’s absence was felt.

It was revealed prior to Sunday’s game that Seattle defensive end Michael Bennett will undergo arthroscopic surgery on his knee to repair cartilage damage and will miss a few weeks. Then in the game we saw how much a difference his presence makes.

Bennett’s absence was particularly visible against the pass. A week ago against the Arizona Cardinals the Seahawks had 13 quarterback hits on Carson Palmer as Seattle was constantly in Palmer’s face. Sunday against New Orleans the Seahawks managed just three quarterback hits on Drew Brees. Seattle has has some success generating pressure with just four rushers, and coming into the game the Seahawks were ranked third in the league in sacks per opposing dropback. However, on Sunday the Seahawks were only really able to generate pressure when they blitzed.

That left more holes in the secondary for a Hall of Fame quarterback like Brees to exploit, and as a result the Saints scored points on their final six drives. That’s a statement that just isn’t ever uttered about Seattle’s defense, which performed admirably in goal-line situations, but may also have wavered just slightly under its second straight heavy workload (162 plays over the past two weeks).

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