Seattle Seahawks 27, St. Louis Rams 17
Sunday, November 29, 2009
Edwards Jones Dome
St. Louis, Missouri
Play of the Day: With the score tied at 7 with 1:50 remaining in the 1st half, Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo opted to go for it on 4th-and-4 from the Seahawks’ 34-yard line, instead of attempting a 52-yard field goal with Josh Brown. Rams quarterback Kyle Boller’s short pass to wide receiver Donnie Avery was deflected by cornerback Kelly Jennings, Seattle’s first-round pick in 2006, and fellow cornerback Josh Wilson, Seattle’s second-round pick in 2007, jumped up and grabbed the batted ball, returning it 65 yards for a Seahawks’ touchdown. The play, which may have been general manager Tim Ruskell’s favorite of the season, gave the ‘Hawks a 14-7 lead they’d never look back from.
Handouts to the Standouts
Second-year running back Justin Forsett set career-highs with 22 carries, 130 yards, and had the first multi-touchdown game of his young career. Forsett was at his best inside the Rams’ 20-yard line, carrying the ball five times for 25 yards and a pair of scores inside the red zone.
Jordan Babineaux lived up to his “Big Play Babs” nickname, finishing with a game-high 13 tackles and intercepting Boller in the end zone to thwart a 3rd quarter scoring drive. Babineaux also got some pressure on Boller, though he was not credited with a half-sack on a quarterback hit. Full credit for that sack belongs to Patrick Kerney, who took advantage of a reshuffled offensive line to have his strongest game in weeks, finishing the game with 4 tackles, 1 sack, and three total hits on Boller.
Cornerback Wilson not only scored his second touchdown of the month, he also defended three passes, including getting his head turned around to break up a 39-yard pass to Avery, avoiding a pass interference penalty in the process.
Kicker Olindo Mare was perfect on his two field goal attempts, and pumped all six of his kickoffs into the end zone, including his 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th touchbacks of the season. He had 22 all of last season.
Things That Made Me Go “Blech!”
Matt Hasselbeck’s 14-of-25 for 102 yards was a disappointing showing considering the number of weapons the Seahawks have in the passing game, and that were facing a Rams’ pass defense that ranked 24th in the NFL entering Sunday.
Wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh did not have a single pass thrown his way in the first half. Hasselbeck would begin to rectify that midway through the 3rd quarter, throwing five passes Houshmandzadeh’s way on an 11-play, 59-yard field goal drive. Houshmandzadeh caught two of the passes for 14 yards—his only receptions of the game—but the $40 million dollar wideout couldn’t make plays on the three other balls, even though Hasselbeck gave him opportunities to do so.
Marcus Trufant continues to be a laundry magnet, flagged for pass interference and defensive holding in the first half on Sunday.
Aside from an 8-play, 64-yard touchdown drive in the 1st quarter, powered largely by 41 yards on the ground by Forsett, the Seahawks’ offense could have been accused of sleeping in on Sunday.
Four of their first six possessions were three-and-outs, with a Louis Rankin fumble stymieing a second-quarter drive at the Rams’ 35-yard line. These early 3-and-outs were caused by the same problems that have dogged the Seahawks throughout the season. Opposing pass-rushers coming untouched to sack or pressure Hasselbeck or to knock his passes down at the line of scrimmage. Dropped passes, negative or no yards gained on first downs, and/or costly holding penalties put the Seahawks’ offense into holes they are not yet talented or cohesive enough as a unit to dig themselves out of.
A week after running for a franchise-low 4 yards, Seattle ran for an impressive 170 yards on Sunday, their highest output of the season. Sure, it was against the Rams’ 28th-ranked run defense, and 28 of those yards came on the legs of Hasselbeck (3 carries, 18 yards) and Seneca Wallace (1 carry, 10 yards), but the offensive line can hang their hats on showing some real improvement on short-yardage plays, as well as running inside the red zone, something this MMQB column has been advocating for more of all season.
The Seahawks were 2-for-3 inside the red zone Sunday, with their lone red zone failure coming when Greg Knapp tried to force-feed the ball to Houshmandzadeh on three straight plays, which unsurprisingly led to an Olindo Mare field goal. Seattle ranked 28th in red zone offense headed into Sunday, and one of the reasons has been play-calling that has been too pass-heavy whenever they get near the goal-line.
That Knapp was willing to run the ball in the red zone with Forsett behind this offensive line, and have some success, may lead to more play-action opportunities involving that under-utilized 6-5, 250-pound tight end Seattle has.
Seattle’s receivers were a real disappointment on Sunday. Nate Burleson was the leading receiver, catching four passes for 46 yards, but for two players earning over $10 million dollars combined this year, the absence of dynamic plays by Houshmandzadeh and Deion Branch should be an integral part of what is hopefully an ongoing evaluation of general manager Tim Ruskell.
Second-year tight end John Carlson, who torched the Rams for six receptions, 95 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the season-opener, was thrown to just three times, catching two passes for 14 yards, highlighted by a 14-yard catch in the 1st quarter. Third-round wide receiver Deon Butler was—once again—an afterthought in the gameplan, while fullbacks Justin Griffith and Owen Schmitt contributed three receptions on Sunday.
Screen passes to Forsett and Rankin had been a major part of the ‘Hawks passing offense in recent weeks, but weren’t called too much against St. Louis on Sunday after Forsett and Rankin dropped passes in the 1st quarter. Neither player contributed much to the passing game on Sunday.
Chris Spencer’s broken right thumb is no longer an injury the Seahawks can brush off. Having to snap with his off-hand, which he’ll likely need to do for the rest of the season, Spencer air-mailed a snap to Seneca Wallace on a read-option play, essentially making the read for Wallace, whose superb athleticism allowed him to gain 10 yards on a play that had no business going anywhere.
Toughness will never be an issue with Spencer, who has practiced and played through a list of injuries a mile long. Because he’s having to snap with his off-hand, Spencer’s shotgun snaps have become an adventure, and the inconsistencies of these snaps appear to be disrupting the timing of the offense. Since Max Unger is potentially the franchise’s center of the future, it might be time for Unger and Spencer to switch places in shotgun formations. It's not an unprecedented tactic. Damien Woody, Hasselbeck's former teammate at Boston College, would move to guard in shotgun formations when he was with the New England Patriots a few years back.
It was a tale of two halves for the Seahawks defense on Sunday.
In the first half, the Seahawks allowed the Rams to gain 213 yards of total offense and control the clock for over 18 minutes, primarily due to the Rams converting on 6-of-11 third down opportunities to start the game.
These third down struggles primarily came on the Rams’ third offensive possession of the game, starting with cornerback Marcus Trufant being flagged for pass interference on 3rd-and-2. Three plays later, a coverage breakdown allowed Boller to hook up with Ruvell Martin for 28 yards on 3rd-and-8. Three plays later, Boller would hit Danny Amendola for 11 yards that set-up the Rams’ first touchdown of the game.
It’s worth nothing that on those plays above, including the touchdown, first-round linebacker Aaron Curry was on the sidelines. This isn’t to say that Curry absolutely, positively would’ve made a difference on those plays, it’s just that if you’re going to remove the NFL’s highest-paid outside linebacker to avoid coverage breakdowns, or because you don’t think he gives you the best opportunity to pressure the quarterback, whoever replaces him better make those plays.
After the break, Seattle’s defense appeared to make a few adjustments, dialing up some blitzes on Boller and a beleaguered Rams’ offensive line. St. Louis’ first three third down opportunities of the second half ended with a sack by David Hawthorne, an interception by Babineaux, and a sack by Leroy Hill, his first since signing a $36 million dollar contract in the off-season. These stops allowed the Seahawks to open up a 17-point lead in the 4th quarter.
Defensive front-seven standouts on Sunday were Kerney and Darryl Tapp, who combined for 10 tackles, a sack, and five hits on Boller. Cory Redding posted his second quarterback sack as a Seahawk, and Curry had two of his five tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Brandon Mebane and Craig Terrill had three tackles apiece, with Terrill sticking a paw up to deflect a Boller pass in the 2nd quarter.
Seattle’s secondary was more active they’ve been in recent weeks, being sent in on blitzes (Babineaux, Wilson each got hits on Boller) and making quite a few plays on balls in the air. There were a pair of flags, lapses on coverages and missed tackles, though, that led to some explosive plays by the Rams’ passing offense. This is somewhat of a concern, considering that not only were the Rams starting a backup quarterback, but three of their top four receivers weren’t with the team when the season started (Amendola, Gibson, Martin) and Seattle's secondary is comprised of high-priced free agents and first and second-round draft picks.
Mare was the special teams standout, going two-for-two on field goal attempts and connecting on all three extra points. Mare had outstanding distance on his kickoffs, and if it weren’t for Amendola returning kicks for a 1-9 team, they wouldn't have been taken out of the end zone.
D.D. Lewis and Will Herring had solid tackles on Amendola’s two kick returns.
Punter Jon Ryan finished the game with a 41.4-yard net average, which was hindered by a 19-yard third quarter punt that was tipped after Leroy Hill missed his block on K.C. Asiodu. Lawyer Milloy and special teams captain Lance Laury made tackles, limiting Amendola to just 8 punt return yards.
Former Seahawk Josh Brown tried to keep up with Mare, but failed to reach the end zone on his two kicks deep, providing Seahawks returners Rankin and Obomanu to average 25.5 yards per return. Seahawks punt returner Nate Burleson averaged 13.3 yards per return, bolstered by a 29-yarder that was a block or two away from going the distance. Burleson also recovered an onside-kick in the 4th quarter.
Hill’s missed block leading to a partially-blocked punt, and a Rams defender getting a hand on Mare’s 38-yard field goal in the 4th quarter, will give special teams coordinator Bruce DeHaven some coaching points this week.
Game Notes: QB Mike Teel (3rd QB), RB Julius Jones, S Jamar Adams, G Mike Gibson, G Mansfield Wrotto, TE Cameron Morrah, DE Derek Walker, and DT Red Bryant were inactive on Sunday…Seattle extended their winning streak over the Rams to 10…Josh Wilson’s touchdown was the 4th of his career, and his second in the Edwards Jones Dome…Matt Hasselbeck’s 19-yard run was his longest since 2006…Three of Leroy Hill’s five quarterback sacks since 2007 have come against the Rams.
Aside from knowing that they’re still better than the Rams, there’s not much that can be gleaned from this win. The Seahawks are a slightly more talented team, so a win was to be expected. That said, a win on the road for the Seattle Seahawks is to be enjoyed and celebrated for the rare event that it is, and perhaps they could get on a bit of winning streak in December.
Seattle faces the San Francisco 49ers at Qwest Field next week, and it’s a chance for the Seahawks to finish .500 within the division. Thanks to the Tennessee Titans, a win next week could potentially move them to within two games in the NFC West. I know, I know, but the math is what it is and the 2009 Seattle Seahawks are still mathematically eligible for the post-season.
In addition to writing for NorthwestFootball.net, Brian McIntyre blogs daily at Mac's Football Blog. You can follow Brian on Twitter, and if you’d like to e-mail him, you can always do so by clicking here.