By Danny O’Neil
The case for Seattle’s defense was overwhelming.
That was as true against St. Louis on Sunday as it was throughout the final month of a season in which the Seahawks set a franchise record for fewest points allowed.
This wasn’t a victory over St. Louis so much as a whupping. Seattle let the Rams’ offense across midfield only twice while holding St. Louis to as low a rushing total as any Seahawks opponent has ever had.
But as good as the Seahawks’ defense was in a 27-9 victory over St. Louis – and it was incredible in clinching NFC West title and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs – that defense was not enough to answer what is now the biggest question concerning these Seahawks in the playoffs:
Do they have enough offense?
That’s a matter of faith after these past four games in which Seattle has struggled on third down, averaged 19.2 points and seen Russell Wilson pass for more than 200 yards only once.
You know this Seahawks defense is championship caliber. You hope the offense is sufficient.
It was against the Rams, but then again, the Seahawks didn’t need much on that side of the ball in this game. Not with the way the defense was playing. Seattle would have both held the lead and outrushed the Rams at halftime even if the offense had not taken a single snap. That’s neither exaggeration nor hyperbole. It’s literally true. Linebacker Malcolm Smith scored the only touchdown for either team in the first half with his 37-yard interception return in the first quarter, and the Rams rushed 12 times over the first two quarters for a net loss of 2 yards as they trailed 13-0.
Seattle’s offense certainly wasn’t that bad, but it wasn’t what you’d call good, either. The Seahawks failed to convert a single third down in the first half and the only two times they had the ball inside St. Louis’ 20, they settled for field goals.
“We didn’t finish in the red zone like we would like to,” coach Pete Carroll said. “We give them respect. They’re a good defense.”
That’s what was said after the Seahawks lost in San Francisco, after they scored 23 points in New York despite getting the benefit of five turnovers and a theme that was echoed again after last week’s home loss to the Cardinals.
Seattle’s defense allowed 13 rushing yards Sunday, tying a single-game franchise record. (AP)
All that adds up to a particularly troubling trend: Seattle’s offense hasn’t been responsible for more than 23 points in any of its last four games, the Seahawks stumbling at the exact moment they were streaking last season.
A year ago, the Seahawks scored their way into the playoffs, totaling 170 points in their final four games and going 4-0. They have totaled 77 over the past four, going 2-2. While Seattle finished Sunday’s game with a respectable 296 yards of total offense – including 97 on the ground by Marshawn Lynch – that doesn’t change how much the Seahawks labored before tacking on a pair of second-half touchdowns.
“It was hard on us today,” Carroll said.
That was especially true in the first half when Seattle failed to convert any of its five third-down opportunities. Then again, Seattle’s defense was so good the Seahawks didn’t have to do much.
“I wasn’t really concerned about it,” Carroll said, “because I could feel like what the defensive day was turning out like.”
Which is to say Seattle’s defense played yet another slobberknocker of a game.
“It was special today,” said defensive end Red Bryant.
Yes, the defense most certainly was. The Rams didn’t get within 47 yards of the end zone in the first half, their first points of the second half were set up by a 32-yard punt return and their only touchdown drive came after Seattle had staked out a 24-point lead and Lynch was seen removing his socks on the sidelines.
More coverage of Seattle’s Week-17 win over St. Louis at CenturyLink Field.
|• Recap | Stats | Photos | Postgame interviews||• O’Neil: What We Learned||• O’Neil: Potential divisional-round scenarios||• ‘The Pete Carroll Show’: Lesson learned||• Henderson: Golden Tate does it again|
The Rams had negative yards rushing until midway through the fourth quarter, gaining 14 yards on the ground on their final drive to keep from setting a record for the fewest rushing yards ever by a Seahawks opponent. Instead, St. Louis only matched the record for rushing futility against Seattle, which was 13 yards.
“It justifies how we’ve been all year,” Bryant said. “When we on, we hard. It was hard today. You can’t throw it, you can’t run it. I don’t know what you can do. When we’re playing like that, we’re hard to beat.”
Perhaps impossible. For the second consecutive year, the Seahawks set a franchise record for fewest points allowed in a full season, they held each of their final five opponents to fewer than 20 points and they enter the postseason as the NFC’s top-seeded heavyweights.
There are no doubts. Not about the defense. You just hope the offense can carry its share.