STACY ROST

Rost: Blame for Seahawks’ gut-punch loss shared between offense, defense

Sep 19, 2021, 8:46 PM
Seahawks Titans Julio Jones...
Julio Jones of the Tennessee Titans carries the ball after making a catch against the Seahawks during the second quarter at Lumen Field on Sunday. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

After a relatively normal Week 1 win over the Indianapolis Colts, the Seahawks played a more familiar-feeling game against the Tennessee Titans, meaning there were explosive plays, turnovers seized, and a back-and-forth battle that came down to the wire.

This time, though, the Seahawks found themselves on the wrong end of a game-winning field goal. Instead, it was the Titans who walked away the victors after a second-half rally in a 33-30 game that went into overtime, while the Seahawks fell to 1-1 on the season.

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Credit the offense for putting up 24 points in the first half, led by 122 yards and a touchdown from wide receiver Tyler Lockett. Russell Wilson was 11 of 15 for 191 yards, and the offense converted on two of three trips inside the red zone.

The second half was a different story, despite a similar stat line for Wilson (11 of 14 for 152 yards). The Seahawks found the end zone just once more thanks to a 68-yard bomb from Wilson to wide receiver Freddie Swain, who took advantage of blown coverage by the Titans. But they never took a drive into the red zone and finished with just six points through the half thanks to a missed PAT kick. The Seahawks possessed the ball for just under 11 minutes in the second half and saw a third quarter with 41 net yards to Tennessee’s 127.

Most notable of all was the final possession in overtime. Facing third-and-10 with the ball in his hands and the game on the line, quarterback Russell Wilson dropped back to pass, scrambled toward the end zone, and very nearly took a safety before desperately heaving the ball away.

Here, some finger pointing is fair. The offense couldn’t convert (it had just three first downs to 11 for the Titans in the third quarter), which meant the defense was on the field for the bulk of the half. And a gassed defense was hardly a match for Titans running back Derrick Henry. One of the best offensive weapons in the league, Henry amassed 126 yards and three touchdowns in the second half. The back-breaker was a 60-yard touchdown run less than a minute after the Seahawks tried to pull ahead with Swain’s touchdown.

Any hope of a win remaining in overtime was quickly deflated when Wilson – who probably should have been called for a safety – couldn’t play the role of hero. It’s not a fair role to bestow on someone, but it’s also one that a $35 million per year, MVP-caliber quarterback commands in the biggest moments.

In this game, Seattle needed Wilson to be a hero. But to get to a Super Bowl, the Seahawks are going to need a lot more than that.

It’s why a share of blame also falls on defense. Credit Seattle’s defense with getting a first half turnover thanks to a sack and forced fumble from second-year defensive end Alton Robinson. And credit the defense with getting a stop on Tennessee’s first possession in overtime. But a familiar pattern that was absent in Week 1 reared its head this time around: Seattle surrendered far too many yards to the opposing offense. The Titans finished with 532 net yards, including 212 on the ground.

In 2020, the defense got away with giving up the most yards of any team thanks to Seattle’s offense averaging 34 points per game. But it’s hardly sustainable to expect that total every week. Thirty points per game shouldn’t just be good enough for a win, it’s also usually good enough to finish as a top-three scoring offense. Green Bay led the league last season with 31.5, while the last team to score over 34 points per game was the 2018 Kansas City Chiefs.

The defense also racked up poorly-timed penalties (the team as a whole had 10 penalties for 100 yards).

The Seahawks knew this was an issue last season, so much so that they called an accountability meeting midway through the year so that defensive players could openly talk through their own roles and responsibilities on several base calls. And while last Sunday looked like an improvement there, this weekend’s loss felt like a step back.

And it shouldn’t be. For as much as the focus has been on Wilson and the offense, the bar is rightfully higher this year for Seattle’s defense. This is a group with an All-Pro middle linebacker (Bobby Wagner) and an All-Pro strong safety (Jamal Adams), both of whom own one of the top contracts at their position. It’s also a group with two first-round Seahawks draft picks in Jordyn Brooks and L.J. Collier, and a second-round pick in Darrell Taylor. This defense is banking on a deep rotation of talented pass rushers to keep players fresh for exactly the moment they found themselves in on Sunday. It’s a defense overseen by Ken Norton Jr., but also importantly by Pete Carroll, a defensive-minded head coach whose past iterations of Seahawks squads have produced some of the finest defensive talent over the last decade.

Why, for this defense, would the bar ever be low?

That the defense houses so much talent and that the offense, which also boasts plenty of talent, scored 30 points should give fans reason to be hopeful, even after a devastating loss. It’s also the second game of the season. But in a tough NFC West where all three divisional foes improved to 2-0 today, it’s understandable if Seattle’s down-to-the-wire finish felt less like a small bump in the road and more like a big punch to the gut.

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