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O’Neil: Seahawks’ suddenly turnover-prone offense caves in on itself

Russell Wilson was sacked six times and committed three turnovers Sunday. (Getty)

The Seahawks’ defense was porous for most of the first half on Sunday. The coach made a dubious replay challenge in the third quarter and followed that up with a punt that had fans howling because it put the defense back on the field, and the Seahawks were also missing their top two running backs and starting center.

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And even with all of that, the biggest reason Seattle lost was the way its quarterback played. And that is what is most troubling about Seattle’s 23-16 loss to the Los Angeles Rams. Seattle’s quarterback was picked off twice for the second straight game, he didn’t attempt a single pass to DK Metcalf in the first half and failed to throw a scoring pass for the first time this season. At times, he appeared to be so affected by the pass rush that he stopped looking downfield and finished with his worst completion percentage of any game this season.

Not surprisingly, the offense that Seattle leaned upon almost entirely for the first five games, caved in on itself on Sunday afternoon in the NFL’s newest luxury palace.

It was Seattle’s third loss in four weeks. The Seahawks are now 6-3 and in a three-way tie atop the division with the Rams and the Cardinals, who pulled out a last-second victory over Buffalo on Sunday. Arizona plays at Seattle on Thursday night where the Seahawks will be trying to regain their stride after the biggest stumble of the season.

This wasn’t a game that can be pinned on Seattle’s defense. That’s not to say the defense was good. It wasn’t. The Rams scored on their first three possessions and Seattle didn’t force a punt until the final 2 minutes of the first half. The Seahawks gave up a single touchdown in the second half and held the Rams to fewer than 28 points for the first time since October 2017. Los Angeles had won four of the five regular-season meetings since then, scoring more than 30 points in three of them.

Instead, it was Seattle’s offense that fizzled in this game, which is probably more troubling. It’s what was supposed to make up for the flaws on the defense, and for much of this season it has done just that. The Seahawks scored more than 30 points in seven of the first eight games.

But Metcalf wasn’t targeted in the first half of the game as he was being covered by Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey. Metcalf finished with two catches for 28 yards. Tyler Lockett led the team with five receptions for 66 yards. Wilson completed 22 of 37 passes, a season-low percentage of 59.5, and the fact that he led Seattle with 60 yards rushing was a sign of just how often he was flushed from the pocket by the Rams’ pass rush.

Reality bites. That’s the story of the past four weeks of this Seahawks’ season, and it’s also the reality Seattle is facing.

This defense is not good, which means that for Seattle to win the offense must be great, and for the first five weeks it was. In three of the past four weeks it has not, becoming the thing that coach Pete Carroll hates more than anything: turnover prone.

The Seahawks were missing their top two running backs for the third straight week as Alex Collins started with both Carlos Hyde and Chris Carson out. Center Ethan Pocic was out with a concussion, and backup Kyle Fuller’s low snap resulted in a fourth-quarter turnover that unplugged a drive that had reached the Rams’ half of the field.

Wilson has been picked off 10 times this season, one away from matching his most in any of his first eight NFL seasons. He was picked off twice by Darious Williams on Sunday, and on the first one Wilson had only himself to blame. The defense had just forced a turnover, setting up Seattle in scoring position, and Wilson had a clear lane to run for the first time when he lobbed a pass to tight end Will Dissly, who was running uncovered down the sideline. Williams saw the pass, though and dropped off the man he was covering to easily intercept it. It was the third time this season that Wilson has been picked off when his team had the ball inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.

While Sunday’s game wasn’t a blowout, it was the second consecutive week in which the Seahawks never had the ball in the fourth quarter with a chance to tie or take the lead, and a season that looked so promising a month ago is suddenly on the rocks.

The question is whether the Seahawks can come back from the brink, and given the way this offense has looked, that’s an iffy proposition at best.

Follow Danny O’Neil on Twitter.

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