For some fans, the sky is always falling. So, you can imagine the reaction after the Seahawks lost to the Rams yet again – and Russell Wilson got hurt along the way.
The Hawks are now 2-3, and some people are writing their 2021 obit. But the season is far from over.
The Hawks were not expected to beat the Rams – not this time, not with an inconsistent offense and discombobulated defense. The only surprise in the 26-17 loss was the finger injury to Wilson, which actually improved the offense as Geno Smith led the Hawks to more points in one quarter (10) than Wilson had in three (7).
Smith’s steady performance – minus the unfortunate interception at the end – assuaged any concerns that the Hawks cannot win without Wilson. In some ways, Smith was better (e.g., he worked the middle of the field and threw a successful screen pass).
The big problem Seattle must fix over the next 10 days – before a Sunday night game in Pittsburgh – is a defense that once again is off to a historically bad start. Pete Carroll and Ken Norton Jr. have got to seal up the cracks – again.
Last year, it took them half the season – and a trade for Carlos Dunlap – to glue it together. They have to do it faster this time because they don’t have the same cushion in the standings.
The 2020 defense was just as terrible over the first five games, but the Hawks started 5-0 because the offense was on fire. This time the offense has been stumbling along, too, and the Hawks are three games worse.
To stay in the wild-card race, they will need to do what they did in 2018. They started 2-3 that year as well, but they won eight of the last 11 to make the playoffs.
It all starts with Carroll getting his talent-laden defense to aggregate its individual skill. Coaches matter in the NFL, more than in any sport. And the Hawks have so far been outcoached in most of their games.
Carroll’s No. 1 challenge is to figure out how to use Jamal Adams. When the strong safety blitzes, teams often run right past him. When he drops into coverage, they complete passes on him.
He had a horrendous game against the Rams, factoring significantly on two of their three touchdowns.
The key play on the first TD drive was a 68-yarder by DeSean Jackson on third-and-10. Adams was the deep safety and got turned around as Matthew Stafford underthrew the ball. Sidney Jones was trailing Jackson by five yards, and Jackson was able to wait for the ball and then run away from Adams and Jones for another 25 yards.
“Those are plays we’ve got to have,” said Quandre Diggs, who picked off his former Detroit teammate in the end zone (his second pick in five days). “We can’t have guys third-and-10 and we give up big plays like that. That’s unacceptable.”
Darrell Henderson scored two plays later to cap a 96-yard drive and give the Rams a 9-7 lead.
On the next drive, after Wilson got hurt, Stafford and Robert Woods carved up the middle of Seattle’s zone defense with back-to-back 20-yard passes. Jones and Jordyn Brooks let him have the first, D.J. Reed gave up the second.
Woods gained 117 of his 150 yards on catches in the middle of the field, and he had a career-high four receptions of at least 20 yards. Seattle gave up eight plays of 20 yards or more.
Henderson followed up Woods’ big plays with his own: a 29-yard cutback run in which he ran right by Adams and Jones. On the next play, Stafford hit Tyler Higbee for a 13-yard TD – with, yep, Adams in coverage.
Ryan Neal, who had a great game against the 49ers on Sunday, was not in the game plan vs. the Rams because the Hawks didn’t play much dime, Carroll said. Neal played just six snaps.
“That wouldn’t have made a difference, I don’t think,” said the coach, who surely is the grand minority with that thought.
Neal seems much better suited to playing the middle of the field in coverage than Adams is. Hopefully Carroll will figure that out and keep Adams in the box, with fewer responsibilities. Adams seems overwhelmed with too many varied jobs right now; he has been much more of a liability than a help in most games so far.
Asked about Adams, Carroll said, “Unfortunately on the big play he didn’t find his way to the ball. They were very fortunate that happened. We were over the top and had the guy doubled and all that kind of stuff, and I don’t even know why he threw it. But the fact that they did and they made a play, give them credit. It’s great play by their quarterback and by DeSean.
“I’m not going after any one guy on anything about anything right now,” he added. “It’s not the time. Go after me first.”
The Seahawks continue to have tons of communication problems in the secondary as well. They look perpetually confused, whether it’s between the safeties and corners or the linebackers and safeties or whoever.
Every QB has picked them apart; they have surrendered four straight 300-yard passing games (the 49ers had a combo effort). Stafford threw for a season-high 365, despite having to pop his index finger back in place during the game.
The Hawks also have allowed at least 450 yards in four straight games, the longest streak in team history and tied for the longest in NFL history.
“There (were) just too many big plays, Stafford hitting both Robert and Cooper (Kupp) over the middle,” Carroll said. “Those plays were field-changing plays, and they got in behind us in our zones and we didn’t have the pressure to the ball to get it dumped down.”
The pass rush has got to start getting home. It doesn’t help that Dunlap (toe), Benson Mayowa (neck) and Darrell Taylor (ankle) – the top three outside rushers – are playing hobbled. Poona Ford had a great game inside (at least three pressures). But he got little help, other than Taylor’s fourth sack. The Hawks hit Stafford just three times, two by Taylor.
The defense started so strong in the first half, continuing how it had largely played vs. the 49ers. The Hawks held the Rams to 175 yards and 0 for 5 third downs, with just three big plays and three points. Then the Rams exploded in the second half.
“It’s super frustrating because you can see what we did in that first half,” Diggs said. “We were locked in, and guys were on their stuff. I don’t know if it’s mental lapses. I don’t know what it is. Guys get comfortable that we hold a team to three points, and you get relaxed. It’s the NFL; you can’t do that. It’s a rivalry game; I would think everybody’s antennas would be up.
“We just have to keep pushing. It definitely stings right now … but there’s a lot of football to be played. We know what we have to do. Guys just have to lock in and be ready to go.”