Clayton: Seahawks learn why winning the division gets priority over seeding

Dec 9, 2019, 12:35 PM

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll...

Pete Carroll's Seahawks lost the NFC West lead and fell to the No. 5 seed Sunday. (Getty)


Some of the Seahawks’ fans got a little greedy in Week 14.

Why has the Seahawks’ passing game regressed in recent weeks?

They put their hopes in the San Francisco 49ers beating the New Orleans Saints, which would allow for the Seahawks to be in position for the NFC’s No. 1 seed. The Saints entered Week 14 as the NFC’s No. 1 seed with a 10-2 record, the same as Seattle, but New Orleans had the tiebreaker due to winning in Seattle in Week 3.

But the Seahawks lost 28-12 to the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday night, falling to 10-3, dropping out of the NFC West lead and all the way to the NFC’s No. 5 seed. Now Seattle virtually needs to win out in the final three weeks to win the division.

Lesson learned. The priority is winning the division first, not being concerned about a higher seed involving a team in another division.

Let’s look at what else was learned in the Sunday night loss to the Rams.

• Rams head coach Sean McVay still has the Seahawks’ number. He’s 4-2 against Seattle since taking over the Los Angeles coaching staff, and he would be 5-1 if kicker Greg Zuerlein had made a field goal at the end of the Seahawks’ victory Oct. 3. It’s rare that Russell Wilson loses a game by more than seven or eight points. McVay has done it twice in the past three years. His play-calling was successful and he kept the Seahawks’ defense off-balance the entire game.

• McVay went back to the basics of his offense, which is the reason the Rams have won their past two games and are chasing the Minnesota Vikings for the last wild-card spot. He ran Todd Gurley on first down. In the second half, he called some short passes to Gurley and then started sprinkling in early-down fly sweeps with receivers.

Rams quarterback Jared Goff wasn’t pressured because on second down he would roll out to his right and throw. Don’t forget Goff was 29 of 49 for 395 yards in the first meeting with Seattle this season. Against the Seahawks on Sunday, Goff completed 23 of 31 for 293 yards and two touchdowns.

The Rams varied the tempo of the game, forcing the Seahawks’ defense to keep preparing for quick calls by McVay and Goff. By controlling the tempo on offense, the Rams controlled the game.

• What was different was how much the Rams’ offense used two tight end sets. They displayed that for the first time this year on Oct. 3. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said the Rams only went three-receiver for about eight plays. Normally, the Rams are a three-receiver team 90 percent of the time.

Wide receivers Brandin Cooks and Cooper Kupp were on the field for just a combined 47 plays. They used two tight ends at least 50 plays. Tight end Tyler Higbee had seven catches for 116 yards, while Cooks didn’t even catch a pass.

• McVay apparently got too cute a few weeks ago. The fly sweeps weren’t working, so he limited those calls against the Seahawks. He didn’t have Gurley on the field that much, as Gurley was averaging less than 14 carries a game coming into Sunday’s game. Against Baltimore, McVay started to scheme plays more with substitution packages and it was a disaster. Communication was off. The running game wasn’t there. Everything fell on Goff and he was forced to throw the ball in 2.76 seconds after the snap, .2 seconds less than the previous two seasons under McVay. Now the Rams are back to being the Rams.

• I’d be surprised if Seahawks running back Rashaad Penny is able to come back during the regular season. He has a sprained ACL, according to Pete Carroll. A sprained MCL could take two to three weeks, or maybe even four to six. An ACL injury might be a little worse. That’s a tough loss because the one-two punch of Chris Carson and Penny was effective.

• Tyler Lockett is back. Enough though he had four catches for 43 yards, he looked good in his routes after two tough weeks. The bad shin injury slowed him down two weeks ago. Last week, he had the flu and was truly limited. Now, he’s healthy and looking good.

Follow 710 ESPN Seattle’s John Clayton on Twitter.

More Seahawks coverage

O’Neil: Seahawks’ loss in LA a double-digit reminder of their biggest warts
Rost: Seahawks have been impressive, but loss to Rams was anything but
Paul Gallant’s Hawksplaining: Was Sunday a dud or did LA expose Hawks?
Pete Carroll says Rashaad Penny has ‘significant’ ACL sprain
3 Key Moments: What went wrong for Seattle against the Rams?
710 ESPN Seattle’s voices react to 28-12 loss to Rams

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