Three Things from the Seahawks’ loss to St. Louis
The Seahawks didn’t lose much in terms of playoff positioning on Sunday.
They did lose the momentum they had gained during their five-game winning streak, and after falling 23-17 to St. Louis, the biggest question heading into the final week of the regular season is whether Seattle lost much in the way of confidence.
Three things we learned:
1. Pass protection is the key to Seattle’s postseason run.
No aspect of Seattle’s team has improved more this season than the protection afforded Russell Wilson. No aspect of Seattle’s team regressed more Sunday than that protection. Over the first seven games, Wilson was sacked a league-high 31 times. Over the next seven games, that number declined to a very manageable 10 sacks. On Sunday against St. Louis, Wilson was sacked four times, hit an additional nine times and at one point was noticeably limping. Over the second half of this season, Seattle has become more of a rhythm, timing-based passing offense than ever before with Wilson, and that depends on the Seahawks’ ability to provide better protection than the line afforded him against St. Louis. If Seattle doesn’t protect better, it will spell trouble on Sunday in Arizona against a Cardinals team that had nine sacks last week, and it will foretell a short playoff run.
2. The Seahawks remain more than capable of beating themselves.
Seattle sabotaged itself on Sunday with three turnovers, 10 penalties, one snap that sailed over the quarterback’s head and another that skidded past him on a critical third-down play. And as efficient as Seattle’s offense was during a five-game winning streak, this is not a team capable of overcoming that accumulation of errors. The Rams gained 207 yards of total offense, and yet they won because of a prohibitive advantage both in turnovers and field position.
3. Turnover margin is once again the weathervane for Seattle’s success.
Nothing was more puzzling early this season than how the Seahawks were losing games in which they had more takeaways than turnovers and winning games in which they turned the ball over more often than they took it away. That’s no longer the case for better – as Seattle has won the past three games in which it had an edge in turnover margin – and on Sunday for worse as the Seahawks lost a game in which they committed three turnovers without ever taking the ball away from St. Louis. It was the fifth time in Pete Carroll’s 79 regular-season games as head coach that Seattle had a turnover margin of minus-three or worse. The Seahawks are 1-4 in those games.
Three things we’re still trying to figure out:
1. How much would Marshawn Lynch help Seattle’s run game?
The temptation is to say that Sunday’s game showed just how much the Seahawks need Lynch back with Thomas Rawls out for the season. The Seahawks gained just 60 yards on the ground, their lowest single-game total in two years. “We didn’t block very well today,” Carroll said. “They had penetration and made some plays in the backfield early on.” Thinking that Lynch’s presence would be enough to mount an acceptable rushing attack behind that offensive line is overly optimistic, especially when you consider the accumulation of injuries this season. That’s not to gloss over the importance of Lynch’s potential return, and in that regard the NFL Network report on his status is encouraging, but Seattle needs to improve up front, too.
2. Just how beat up is Russell Wilson?
One of the underexamined issues early in the season was just how much Wilson was pummeled both in the pocket and when he scrambled. Over the past month and a half, Wilson hadn’t taken as many hits, but that game Sunday against St. Louis might have been the biggest single-day dose of physical punishment he has been subjected to in the NFL. And while Wilson didn’t appear to be injured, there’s no doubt he’s hurting.
3. Why is St. Louis so particularly feisty against Seattle?
St. Louis’ victory on Sunday was the Rams’ fifth over the Seahawks during Carroll’s tenure, tied with San Francisco for most by any opponent. But while San Francisco has won two division titles in that time, appeared in three NFC Championship Games and gone to the Super Bowl, the Rams have yet to finish above .500. The Rams do have one of the best defensive lines in the league. They also have a penchant for pulling off trick plays, but they also seem to be a particularly pest of an opponent for Seattle. “The Rams, they play good football against us,” said Michael Bennett, Seattle’s Pro Bowl defensive lineman. “They just don’t play good football against everybody else. When we play ’em, they play their hardest.”