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Review: Rams 34, Seahawks 31 (OT)

13 Sep
Photo Credit: stlouisrams.com

Photo Credit: stlouisrams.com

Why do we always struggle in St. Louis? It is a question that has bugged every Seahawks fan for years but I think our frustration has finally come to a head. After erasing an 11 point deficit to take a 7 point lead, only to see it disappear in the final minute of regulation, the Seahawks fell to the St. Louis Rams in overtime 34-31 after being stopped on 4th and 1. The Seahawks start the season 0-1 for the first time since 2012. The Rams start their season 1-0 and as of tonight are tied for first place in the NFC West with the Arizona Cardinals. You can pick your poison as to whom or what was the most to blame for our collapse this week. In this review I am going to take you through these different directions and share my opinions of each one.

Bevell’s Playcalling: It is a broken record that refuses to stop playing. There were several moments during Sunday’s game where I found myself angry about the playcalling by offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. Like I pondered about in my game preview, the Seahawks did try to establish the running game early and they did adapt to take advantage of the Rams defensive weaknesses in the second half, however the play selection in the second half was very frustrating. More often than not it seemed like the Seahawks tried to throw the ball short on first down then run the ball for a short gain on second down, which set up numerous third down chances of at least 5 yards to gain. Due to the pressure on quarterback Russell Wilson the Seahawks threw many screen passes but they were largely ineffective. The play that overshadows all of this however was the final one; 4th down and 1 at the Rams 42-yard line. Out of the shotgun Wilson handed a draw to Marshawn Lynch who was stopped behind the line of scrimmage, clinching the win for St. Louis. You can make the argument that we should have thrown it but the skepticism around the final play can be equated to the final play of  Super Bowl XLIX. What would people think if we decided to throw it on the final play today? The popular assumption would have been that Lynch would have easily run for a first down. The reality of the situation may make it extremely difficult to pin this loss on Bevell alone, but I cannot give him the benefit of the doubt anymore because of his long track record of calling questionable plays at the most pivotal of times.

The Offensive Line: To be honest I expected the offensive line to struggle and they did just that. Behind the line Marshawn Lynch ran 18 times for 73 yards. If you take away his longest run of the game (a 24 yarder in the fourth quarter), Lynch averaged a dismal 2.9 yards per carry. Russell Wilson was sacked 6 times and never looked comfortable inside the pocket. I have a very hard time analyzing the play of our offensive line strictly because of what unit they were going up against. I do not think it is fair to put the entire blame on this group because the Rams have arguably the best defensive line and linebackers in football. I honestly do not know if they were just too dominant for the Seahawks to handle, or if the Seahawks offensive line is truly as bad as they played on Sunday. Next week’s game in Green Bay will give us a clearer picture in regards to how good (or bad) our offensive line actually is.

Defensive Lapses: With the talent the Seahawks have on defense it should have been an expectation that we could force the Rams to punt after every third down and long. The Rams converted 54 percent of their third down chances. Of their 6 third down conversions, two of them were on 3rd and 15. These two conversions eventually led to 14 points. What was also absolutely horrifying was the number of big plays Seattle gave up. The Seahawks gave up a staggering eight plays of 21 yards or more, many of them being passes where Rams receivers were wide open. The Seahawks pride themselves on being able to take away the big play but that was not the case in this game. The Legion of Boom did not look right and you could tell they were flustered all day long.

Bailey’s Big Boo Boo: Given the ongoing Kam Chancellor holdout situation, it was my hope that strong safety Dion Bailey could go out and show the 12’s that he could be a serviceable replacement. He played what I would consider to be a decent game but all of that went out the window in the final minute of regulation. Bailey had one-on-one coverage with Rams tight end Lance Kendricks when Rams quarterback Nick Foles lofted a pass in Kendricks’s direction down the left sideline. Bailey tripped over himself and fell to the turf, leaving Kendricks wide open at the 5-yard line. The pass easily dropped into Kendricks’s bread basket and he practically walked into the endzone. The touchdown tied the game at 31-31. After scoring 18 unanswered points to take a late lead, all of our momentum was taken away on this play. Instead of making a stop to potentially win the game, we caved when we absolutely could not. I only have one question: As he sat on his couch watching Bailey fail to stop Kendricks on that play, what in the world is running through Kam Chancellor’s mind?

Hauschka’s Botched Kickoff: I guess it makes more sense after hearing Steven Hauschka’s explanation of his overtime kickoff but in real time I could not believe that Pete Carroll and special teams coordinator Brian Schneider elected to onside kick. After St. Louis won the toss to start the overtime period Hauschka appeared to go for the onside kick which was promptly recovered by the Rams at midfield. It was a ballsy decision that made no sense whatsoever given the circumstances. The Rams were given a short field and easily moved the ball into scoring range, setting up the eventual game-winning field goal. After the game Hauschka explained that he was trying to pooch kick the ball but his foot hit the ball wrong, causing it to travel only about 15 yards. It makes you wonder though, could the Seahawks have prevented St. Louis from scoring even if they had to start deep in Seattle territory? We played such a porous game that unfortunately I am not convinced.

Random Thoughts: It looked like there was no one in the upper deck of the Edward Jones Dome. The Rams claim they distributed just over 51,000 tickets for Sunday’s game but I wouldn’t be surprised if the actual attendance was somewhere between 30,000 and 35,000… There may be nothing better than being surprised at your place by a couple of your best friends and a giant greasy bag of McDonald’s breakfast. A big shout out to Alan and Jake for the meal and company… Hopefully that was the final game we ever play in St. Louis. At least we knocked out our game against the Rams at the Dome this early in the season… I miss the days when Russell Wilson wore Jos. A. Bank suits. Should have stuck with them instead of going to Calvin Klein… Yet another story was blown out of proportion by the national media following today’s game. After the game the Rams retweeted a Russell Wilson tweet from earlier this week. The content of the tweet is something Wilson always does. He posted “1-0” with the hashtag #GoHawks. To go 1-0 every week is always his mindset. It may be cliché but that’s all it is. A CLICHÉ. The national media twisted the tweet to make Wilson come off as cocky and arrogant, predicting a win prematurely and discounting the Rams ability to compete with the Seahawks. This makes my blood boil. To the Rams Twitter account, why don’t you win with class and take the high road instead of intentionally rubbing our loss in our faces? Retweeting this tweet stoops you down to 49er standards in my opinion. And to the national media, you should know by now what kind of player and person Russell Wilson is. Stop throwing s**t on the wall to see what sticks. These newfound accusations of Wilson being an arrogant player are examples of incredibly irresponsible reporting.

What’s Next: The Seahawks head back on the road next week as they take on the Green Bay Packers on Sunday Night Football. Check back next Saturday morning for my preview of next week’s game.

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Raiders/Seahawks Preview

1 Nov
Photo Credit: seahawks.com

Photo Credit: seahawks.com

Matchup: Oakland Raiders at Seattle Seahawks

Site: CenturyLink Field (Seattle, Washington)

Kickoff: 1:25pm

The Seahawks begin the month of November at home this week as they renew their old AFC West rivalry, hosting the Oakland Raiders. The Seahawks are 4-3 and are coming off a crucial win in Carolina last week. The Raiders have had a very lackluster season thus far and they are the only winless team left in the National Football League at 0-7. Last week the Raiders fell on the road to the Cleveland Browns 23-13. Oakland leads the all-time series with Seattle 29-24. In their last regular season meeting the Raiders demolished the Seahawks 33-3 in October 2010. That was head coach Pete Carroll’s first season in Seattle and since losing to the Raiders in 2010 the Seahawks hold a .606 winning percentage. Meanwhile in the exact same span, the Raiders winning percentage is a mere .317. Here are some things I will be looking for out of the Seahawks this week, as well as a special report on the Oakland Raiders.

I have pleaded for the Seahawks to get quarterback Russell Wilson more involved in the running game the past couple of weeks but this week I do not think it will be necessary for Wilson to run for the Seahawks offense to be effective. Instead, this may finally be the week that we see Wilson spread the ball around and get rookies Paul Richardson and Kevin Norwood their most action of the season. Richardson and Norwood combined for 5 targets last week. Both Wilson and Coach Carroll have stated that they hope to get both of these receivers more involved this week, but I am interested to see if they use them to accentuate their specific abilities. Could Richardson be used on fly sweeps and bubble screens much like how Percy Harvin was used? I think it is definitely possible. Could we see Wilson try to stretch the field and let Norwood use his size as an advantage to catch deep balls? I think Wilson may look Norwood’s direction deep at least once this week. If these two receivers combine for 75 or more receiving yards I think the Seahawks are in for a very successful day through the air.

At the end of last week’s game the Seahawks dialed up the pressure on Carolina quarterback Cam Newton and it worked like a charm in preserving the victory. This week the Seahawks defense needs to stick to that blueprint. At home in 2014 the Seahawks have averaged just over 1.5 sacks per game. This number must improve. After three home games last season the Seahawks averaged just above 2.5 sacks per game. Expect to see Bruce Irvin and K.J. Wright blitz on early downs this week and keep an eye on Wright who will be back starting at outside linebacker. If Raiders rookie quarterback Derek Carr has time inside the pocket it will be interesting to see how his reads progress in the middle of the field. The Seahawks will start rookie Brock Coyle at middle linebacker this week, who has seen little playing time on defense this season. Coyle is a solid tackler who tries to get in on every play but he has a long way to go to challenge for Bobby Wagner’s permanent starting job. It is not unreasonable to think Carr will try to throw short passes in the middle of the field to test Coyle and if Carr can catch the Seahawks off-guard, those passes could turn into large chunks of yards for the Raiders.

There is one major thing the Seahawks absolutely cannot do this week; overlook the Raiders. The Raiders may be 0-7, they may be the worst team in the NFL on paper, but there may be potential for this being a trap game. Remember what happened when the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers came into CenturyLink Field last season? The 12th Man thought we would just roll right over them. Instead, the Buccaneers jumped out to a stunning 21-0 lead putting all Seahawks fans on edge. The Seahawks cannot play relaxed this week and the fans must be just as loud and intense this week as our other games this season. The Raiders have only lost two games so far this season by more than two scores, including two close games against AFC powers New England and San Diego. Oakland will absolutely get up for this week’s game, the question is will the Seahawks force them to sit right back down or will Oakland be able to put up a legitimate fight.

This week is a very special game for me. One of my best friends, Josh Gabel, is a die-hard Oakland Raiders fan. For the past several years I have taken him to every Raiders/Seahawks preseason game but we have never had the opportunity to see our teams play each other in the regular season. There may be no better person I know to give an in-depth analysis of the Oakland Raiders than Josh. Instead of me giving you a paragraph on the Raiders and giving you an “X-Factor player to watch” this week I have instead invited Josh to be a guest contributor in this week’s preview. Here is what Josh has to say about his Raiders, along with what he is looking for in this week’s game:

At 0-7, the Oakland Raiders head to Seattle in the midst of a 13 game losing streak and an all but assured 11th consecutive non-winning season. A trip to the Clink sure doesn’t seem to be the solution to the Raiders’ woes. After two years of salary cap hell, Oakland brought in proven winners and recognizable (albeit past-their prime) names – guys like defensive ends Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley, and running back Maurice Jones-Drew – but have yet to see a return on their investment. With 13 new starters on both sides of the ball, this group has failed to mesh, costing head coach Dennis Allen his job and leaving general manager Reggie McKenzie’s future beyond this season in doubt.

The O in Oakland has gone missing so far in 2014. The Raiders offense is putting up a meager 15.0 PPG, which is good for 31st in the league. Many of these struggles can be traced to an unwillingness to run the ball.  Oakland is averaging only 69.6 rushing yards per game, which should be attributed more play-calling than ineffectiveness. Despite Darren McFadden’s respectable 4.0 yards per carry, Oakland passes 67% of the time. On a team with no playmakers at the skill positions (save for the occasional Andre Holmes highlight), passing the ball at such a high rate is a recipe for losing. Rookies Derek Carr (leads all rookie QBs in passing yards, TDs, and QB Rating) & Gabe Jackson (7 starts on a top 5 pass blocking offensive line) along with the aforementioned Holmes are bright spots for the team’s future. The coaching staff may trust Carr with the keys to the offense, but Oakland will continue to stall without a commitment to the run. Things don’t get much better on the other side of the ball.

Oakland is near the bottom of the league in nearly every defensive category. They can’t stop the run (130.1 YPG) or get after the QB (7 sacks, tied for 29th). With all of the money McKenzie gave to Tuck, Woodley, and Antonio Smith, it is very disappointing to see such a lack of production. The lone bright spot on this defense is that number 5 overall pick Khalil Mack has lived up to his high draft so far, but not necessarily as expected. Coming out of the University of Buffalo, Mack was known being a disruptive force behind the line of scrimmage. Though Mack has yet to register a sack, he has been credited with 22 QB pressures and is Pro Football Focus’ highest rated linebacker against the run, with 8.5 tackles for a loss. It will be interesting to see if Mack can down Marshawn Lynch in the backfield. With the offense struggling, the Raiders defense has to get off the field more; Oakland is tied for last in the league on 3rd down, giving up a 48% conversion rate. The Raiders have to find a way to pressure Russell Wilson without losing containment, a task that is much easier said than done.

Whether it’s “Play like Carcass for Marcus [Mariota]” or (my preference) “Down the Pooper for [Amari] Cooper”, Raiders fans are looking forward to May’s draft earlier than ever before. A win in Seattle would do wonders for Reggie McKenzie’s future as head of football decisions. Is it likely? No. But, rest assured, Sunday is going to feel like a good old fashioned AFC West showdown.

Random Thoughts: The Seahawks will wear navy jerseys and navy pants this week. Oakland will sport their classic white jersey/silver pants combo… Kevin Harlan will provide the play-by-play and former Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon will provide the color commentary for CBS this week… Ed Hochuli and his gigantic biceps will do the officiating this week… This will be the first “cold” home game of the season. I recommend sweatshirts and jeans… Two reminders for the 12’s this week. First remember this weekend is daylight savings time. Turn your clocks back one hour and get an extra hour of sleep. Second, remember this week is a 1:25pm kickoff. Give yourself a little extra time to get to the stadium but shame on you if you are not in your seats by kickoff… Given the circumstances of this special Raiders/Seahawks regular season matchup, we have a full slate ahead of us on Sunday. Tentative schedule includes McDonald’s breakfast, being at the bar around the time they open between 8 and 8:30, the game, then dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings. It’s going to be a great day… Walter Jones will become the 11th Seahawk to be inducted into the Seahawks Ring of Honor. The ceremony will take place at halftime. What is interesting is that Jones will be the first player to have his number retired BEFORE having his name put in the Ring of Honor. This is the first Ring of Honor ceremony I will get to be a part of since I became a season ticket holder in 2006 (Cortez Kennedy Was inducted into the Ring of Honor in 2006 but I was unable to attend the game). This season the Seahawks have had a pattern of having a 12th Man Flag raiser that is somehow associated to the opposing team or opposing city. With the Raiders in town I expect a former Seahawk from the 1980’s to raise the flag this week. I have no specific guess though… With a win the Seahawks will close out the first half of the season with a 5-3 record.

Prediction: Honestly, I see the Seahawks rolling in this game. Oakland may be able to keep it close in the first half but Seattle will eventually run away with this game. Marshawn Lynch will run for over 100 yards and a touchdown. Russell Wilson will add two passing touchdowns and the Seahawks defense will force 3 Raiders turnovers. The Seahawks will get to 5-3 and we will get ready to face the New York Giants next week.

Seahawks 33, Raiders 14