October 15th, 2006
Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis, MO
Play Of The Day: WR Darrell Jackson's momentum changing 42-yard touchdown reception in the 3rd quarter. That play had everything that the offense needed. QB Matt Hasselbeck was cool and collected. The offensive line provided good protection and gave Hasselbeck room to step up. The pass was perfectly thrown and Jackson made a great catch and gave hope to a Seahawk team that was beginning to look defeated. After this score, the entire team - offense, defense, and special teams - looked energized and spirited.
Bringing Their “A” Game: K Josh Brown, for 3 long field goals (49, 49, and the 54 yard game-winner)... WR Darrell Jackson, four receptions for 94 yards and a huge touchdown... WR Deion Branch, for six receptions, 76 yards, and two touchdowns, and a 19 yard reverse... Lofa Tatupu, for 6 tackles - many during the Seahawks' 2nd half resurgence - and a key 4th-quarter interception... Bryce Fisher, for two sacks against Pro-bowl LT Orlando Pace... Julian Peterson, for notching two sacks of his own... QB Matt Hasselbeck, for 19/34, 268 yards, three touchdowns, and masterfully engineering the game-winning drive. And the entire interior line rotation, for notching a sack (split between DTs Rocky Bernard and Marcus Tubbs) along with keeping Rams RB Steven Jackson to a paltry 2.8 YPC average.
The Bad and the Ugly: Rams WR Tory Holt had a field day against the Seahawks' pass defense, catching 8 passes for 154 yards and three touchdowns... Seattle's first half offensive line play was certainly not pretty, holding RB Maurice Morris to 4 yards on five carries...Seahawks FS Ken Hamlin's ”Unnecessary Roughness” penalty, after a 3rd down sack, was just stupid and inexcusable... As for the ugly, how about announcer Brian Baldinger's eyeliner? Blech!
Offense: Seahawks President Tim Ruskell might have outsmarted the “experts” when he traded the Seahawks' 1st round pick in the 2007 NFL Draft to the New England Patriots for WR Deion Branch. Branch, after signing a big contract with Seattle, made Ruskell look like a genius on Sunday. With the team for little more than a month, Branch has already won both the starter's spot and QB Matt Hasselbeck's trust. If Seattle needed a first down, Matt looked for Branch's spectacular hands and awareness of the chains. On both of his touchdown grabs, Branch was thrown the ball despite being well covered by the Rams. Holmgren has even trusted Branch to carry out trick plays, as Branch churned out 19 yards on a reverse. Deion Branch, welcome to Seattle, don't change anything.
While one of Ruskell's finds (Branch) might be working better than anyone expected, C/LG Chris Spencer is doing the exact opposite. After a shaky game against the Bears, Spencer looked unprepared for the Rams. Despite a giving up a sack to rookie DE/DT Victor Adeyanju, Spencer actually looked fairly solid in pass protection. However, Spencer committed three false starts against the Rams and was whistled for holding, negating a long Mack Strong touchdown run (luckily for Spencer, Seattle rebounded with a touchdown pass immediately after). Most disappointing was Spencer's run blocking, supposedly his strength. Spencer did a good job of keeping his man out of the backfield but defenders had little trouble slipping off his blocks and tackling RB Morris for short gains.
Despite some shaky blocking from the offensive line, Maurice Morris had a few big runs in the 2nd half of the game - after notching only 4 yards on 5 carries in the first half - that kept the defense off balance. Head Coach Mike Holmgren might have learned from the Chicago Bears debacle two weeks ago. Instead of giving up on the run - despite having every reason to - Holmgren stuck with it and it paid off. Holmgren's persistence in running the football might have been the biggest surprise of the game, were it not for the Shotgun formation.
Raise your hand if you predicted we'd see Holmgren use the shotgun, not once but twice! You might want to start telling fortunes for a living because that caught the rest of us mere mortals off guard. Both times the shotgun seemed to work fairly well - Hasselbeck missed TE Itula Mili on a seam pattern, but that was more due to Mili's lack of athleticism than anything wrong with the play call. It would've been very typical for Holmgren to have shoved the shotgun away for another six years after that incompletion, but the shotgun came back in the 4th quarter, as Hasselbeck hooked up with WR D.J. Hackett for a 37-yard catch-and-run.
Side Note: D.J. Hackett seems to have a knack for the big catch - his grab against the Giants last year in overtime, his leaping catch on the final drive against Lions, and this beautiful catch and run all show a player with a special ability to come through when it counts.
This game was truly a game of two halves. For the first half, the Seahawks couldn't have pieced together a decent drive against many college defenses. In the second half, even the Chicago Bears defense would've been hard pressed to stop Seattle. The biggest difference between the two halves was the tempo of the offense. The commitment to the run kept the players feeling like they were continually moving down the field - even if only in three-yard chunks. In the second half, the players were getting to the line much quicker and getting the snap off quicker as well. The defense didn't have time to read the offense, allowing the offense to maintain the element of surprise throughout the half.
Defense: The story of the defense starts and ends with WR Tory Holt - literally. The first play from scrimmage? A 38-yard pass to Holt. The last play for the defense? A 67-yard touchdown reception for Holt. Tory Holt reached 10,000 career receiving yards, with an estimated 9,900 of those yards coming against Seattle on deep passes. It seemed every time that Holt went long, Bulger hooked up with him. A lot of the trouble came from lack of help. On each of the big receptions, Holt was being covered by only a safety. Holt has made a career of burning double coverages, how were Safeties Michael Boulware and Ken Hamlin suppose to cover Holt?
The inability to stop Holt continues to draw attention to a disturbing trend in our defense. Time and time again Seattle dropped into zone coverage, and the Rams repeatedly picked the zone defense apart. If the Rams threw deep, their excellent receivers would be isolated against one of our safeties. If the Rams ran shorter routes, their wideouts are veteran enough to find the gaps in zone coverage and wait for the ball. The strangest decision in the playcalling was the unwillingness to knock Holt off his routes. When Kelly Herndon would play the flat - zone coverage near the line - he had a great opportunity to be physical with Holt without getting burned deep. However, Holt usually had a free release off the line.
What happened to Kelly Herndon? Involved in several big plays in the passing game, including Holt's 38-yard reception. More interesting is that he continues to be a better tackler than many linebackers in this league. He has 26 tackles for the year, which projects to 104 tackles over the course of the season. Ironically, Peterson might be more trustworthy in coverage but Herndon may be the better wrap-up tackler. Someone move this man to safety! His inability to cover the pass wouldn't be as glaring a weakness, and he'd have more opportunity for run support. He's a little small for safety but not laughably so. Now, he's a good enough corner that the Seahawks need him right now, but in the future he could help the team from the safety position.
Almost as curious as Kelly Herndon's sudden tackling prowess is the 3-3-5 formation's ability to rush the passer. The Seahawks recorded three sacks when they rushed only three linesmen - two sacks came when previously MIA DE Bryce Fisher beat Rams Pro-Bowl LT Orlando Pace. It looks like the Rams, and particularly Pace, were caught off-guard by the formation. Don't be surprised if we start seeing this formation more, as it puts all three of our excellent linebackers on the field and gives the defense more flexibility.
While the pass defense continued to struggle, the run defense continued to dominate. Steven Jackson entered the game having run for 409 yards on 93 carries (4.4 YPC average), which lead the league. Seattle responded by clogging the running lanes impressively, holding Jackson to only 56 yards on 20 carries (2.8 YPC average). While the front-four has had trouble rushing the passer, it has been very solid against the run all season. A lot of the improvement comes from MLB Lofa Tatupu's presence, but the defensive tackle rotation, really introduced in '05, has been hugely successful as well. For the first time since Cortez Kennedy wore Seahawks blue (or green, if you're a national announcer), Seattle's run defense is an actual strength for the team as a whole.
Referee Report Card: This may be the first time that the referees could be considered on the side of the Seahawks, especially at the end of the game, when Ed Hochuli's correct call allowed enough time for Brown's field goal. While it seemed that the Rams had several holds that went uncalled, the referees were very strict with the Ram defensive backs, calling defensive holding on two long bombs. Overall, there were enough good calls to make up for any no calls. B+
Special Teams: K Josh Brown should be canonized. Brown hit 3 of 4 field goals, with the only miss being at least partly due to a poor snap and poor hold, which left the laces facing the wrong side of the field. He may be perhaps the most cold-blooded kicker in the game. Whenever there is a game-winning kick on the line, Brown comes through. P Ryan Plackmeier had one poor punt, but otherwise was money; booming kicks with great distance and hang time. The coverage units were solid, forcing an important fumble that built on the momentum. Kickoff returns were above average, with KR Willie Ponder breaking a big return to start Seattle's first drive. And PR Jimmy Williams, before leaving with an injury, caught every punt, definitely a plus.
Summary: This game was a hard fought battle for the Seahawks. The Seahawks fell behind early, looked almost done heading into halftime. But the team came out of the second half firing and took the lead. Then the Rams came back on an amazing catch and took the lead. And it all came down to a masterful drive orchestrated by Matt Hasselbeck, enabling Josh Brown to hit the winning field goal.
Kyle Rota is our fine MMQB, and is also known as "Rotak" on our message boards. You can e-mail him here.