By Chris Cluff
If the Seahawks fancy themselves a playoff team, they absolutely have to beat teams like the St. Louis Rams — teams they dominate at the line of scrimmage. But, by letting the Rams steal one against them Sunday, the Hawks proved they are not yet a playoff contender.
Jeff Fisher and his Rams staff out-coached Pete Carroll’s crew, the Rams’ special teams dominated the game and Seattle’s rookie-led passing attack once again came up short as St. Louis held on for a 19-13 win.
The Seahawks started well, mixing the pass and running evenly on an opening touchdown drive that Marshawn Lynch finished off with an 18-yard touchdown run. The Hawks covered 80 yards in eight plays — 40 yards on three passes and 40 yards on five rushes.
But they didn’t finish a drive for the rest of the game.
It was particularly frustrating since the running game was great all day — the Hawks rushed for a season-high 179 yards. The left side was especially effective, with James Carpenter inserted at guard next to Russell Okung and tight end Anthony McCoy often helping out on that side.
Lynch ran for 118 yards on 20 attempts and Robert Turbin complemented him with 45 yards on six runs.
But the passing game, led by rookie Russell Wilson, failed at the end of the game for the second time this season (third, if you count the lucky finish Monday). And that was why the Hawks were unable to overcome the special-teams miscues.
Wilson threw three interceptions, although two can be blamed mostly on his receivers.
Doug Baldwin let a slightly off-target pass go through his hands into the arms of Trumaine Johnson in the second quarter. That set up the Rams at their 48-yard line, and they embarked on a 12-play drive that culminated in their only touchdown.
On Seattle’s final chance to win the game, McCoy fell down on an out route and the ball sailed into the hands of Bradley Fletcher to effectively end the game. On top of those errors, the Seahawks converted just two of nine third downs and right tackle Breno Giacomini was called for three penalties, including two costly personal fouls.
All of the mistakes added up to a waste of a great rushing performance and continued to validate the opinion that the Seahawks set themselves up to fail with the way they approached the passing game during training camp.
The Seahawks’ No. 1 scoring defense did its job, allowing the Rams just four field goals. The Hawks also held the Rams to 75 rushing yards on 27 attempts (2.8 yards per carry) and had two sacks and an interception against Sam Bradford.
Brandon Mebane, Bobby Wagner, Earl Thomas and K.J. Wright led the Seahawks’ smothering unit. They combined to make seven tackles for loss, and Alan Branch and Jason Jones each had a sack.
The unit’s only failing once again was on third downs. The Hawks held the Rams to 5 of 13, but every conversion seemingly was pivotal. On the first drive, Branch tipped a pass on third-and-13, and it still found its way into the hands of Brandon Gibson. The Rams ended up getting a 58-yard field goal out of that drive. On the fourth drive, the Hawks left Austin Pettis uncovered in the flat on third-and-14 and he turned a short pass into a first down. That kept alive a drive that led to the Rams’ touchdown.
The Hawks also gave up a 26-yard pass play to tight end Lance Kendricks on third-and-13 in the fourth quarter. That put the Rams in Seattle territory, and they ended up kicking a 24-yard field goal to go ahead 19-13.
That’s three big conversions in long-yardage third downs that led to 13 points.
The game was decided by these units as the Rams pulled off a fake field goal and the Seahawks handed the Rams three more points by trying an onside kick to start the second half.
The fake field goal was the play of the game, as punter/holder Johnny Hekker tossed an easy 2-yard pass to Danny Amendola, who was standing alone outside the right hashmark. It gave the Rams a 10-7 lead that they never relinquished.
The Seahawks reportedly had prepared for that trick during practice and the coaches upstairs saw Amendola standing unmarked, but Carroll couldn’t get a timeout called in time.
Rams rookie kicker Greg “The Leg” Zuerlein was spectacular. He hit a team-record 58-yard field goal easily in the first quarter, cutting Seattle’s lead to 7-3. After the fake field goal, he added a 48-yarder in the second quarter to make it 13-7.
After the Seahawks tried to pull a surprise onside kick to start the second half, Zuerlin ended up kicking a 60-yarder for a 16-7 lead that put Seattle in permanent chase mode.
After Seattle pulled to 16-13 on a pair of short field goals by Steven Hauschka, Zuerlein’s 24-yarder made it 19-13.
Leon Washington had one kickoff return, but he made it a big one — 69 yards. That set up the Seahawks at the Rams’ 36-yard line, but Wilson threw an interception when he was hit by rookie Janoris Jenkins on a corner blitz.
Jon Ryan was once again awesome for the Seahawks, averaging 49 yards on four punts, with a long of 62.
But the Seahawks’ failure to cover Amendola on the fake field goal and the failed onside kick made this an almost complete failure of a day for their special teams.
Not all of the offense’s passing problems were Wilson’s fault, but three interceptions and only one touchdown drive are not good enough to win.
It is obvious that he is still learning and thus making a lot of little errors — whether bailing out of the pocket too early or not seeing open receivers or forcing the ball or calling the wrong play or formation or causing delay of game (this was actually the first game he had not been called for that penalty).
Wilson’s numbers for this game were not terrible, beyond the picks; he completed 17 of 25 for 160 yards. But he also failed to rally the Hawks.
If not for a friendly call on the final play of the Monday night game against Green Bay, Wilson would be 0 for 3 in comeback drives. As it is, he is 1-2, and that still isn’t good enough for a group that fancies itself a playoff team.
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Chris Cluff worked as a sports editor and writer for The Seattle Times for 11 years and has written two books on the Seattle Seahawks. Since leaving the Times, he has written about the Seahawks and Seattle sports for Bleacher Report and the blog he shares with a fellow sportswriter, outsidethepressbox.com. His work can be found on Examiner.com.