Just as it happened in the loss during February’s Super Bowl 49, area fans are likely to be fixated this week on how the Seahawks offense ended Sunday’s opening defeat at St. Louis in the same way, unable to get the 1 yard it needed to win the game.
But just like seven months ago against the New England Patriots in the NFL title game, an equally concerning issue for Seattle was its inability to gain a single yard on offenseand how its top-ranked defense gave up the lead late.
More to the point this time: How in the name of Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk did the Seahawks allow the Rams 34 points on Sunday?
It was the most they’d allowed in 35 games, back to the 34-28 loss at Indianapolis on Oct. 6, 2013, just before Seattle got hot and won its first Super Bowl that season. Sunday was also the most points the Seahawks had surrendered to the Rams in 27 meetings, back to Oct. 20, 2002, when Seattle finished 7-9 while in its then-annual rut of staying mediocre at or near .500 just about every season.
These two-time defending NFC champions are supposed to be nothing at all near mediocre. Yet in their last two games, the league’s top-rated defense the past two seasons have given away a 24-14 lead with 9 minutes left and a 31-24 lead with 4 minutes to go. And up next are Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in Green Bay Sunday night.
The easy place to point fingers after just one game of this season is at Kam Chancellor’s holdout. Sunday was only the fourth time since he entered the league in 2010 with Seattle paired with Earl Thomas back with him at free safety — that the Seahawks didn’t have the hitter they call “Bam Bam” at strong safety. And it indeed showed.
The tackling was shoddy, all over the defense. Bruce Irvin, Michael Bennett and Jordan Hill up front. K.J. Wright and even All-Pro middle man Bobby Wagner. The “Legion of Boom” secondary right now is half the unit that came up with that nickname. All of them whiffed on the Rams who ran free past them for 297 yards passing — the most allowed by Seattle since Drew Brees and the Saints had 301 in the playoff game they lost to the Seahawks at the end of the ‘13 season.
The thumping Chancellor would have helped with some of the tackling issues, especially over the middle and behind Wagner, where Rams kept gaining huge chunks of turf.
But the Seahawks also had communication breakdowns that put them in the wrong coverages, leaving some St. Louis receivers completely, stunningly unguarded. Those foul-ups weren’t all by Chancellor’s debuting fill-in Dion Bailey, the 2014 rookie practice-squad player, either. Chancellor and Thomas are usually the co-traffic cops for their teammates from the back line of the defense.
“We didn’t communicate,” Wagner said in Seahawks locker room afterward that was quiet — but not angry or panicked in any way.
On the final play of the first quarter, minutes after rookie Tyler Lockett’s 57-yard punt return put the Seahawks ahead 7-0, outside linebacker K.J. Wright stayed in the short right flat where no Rams receiver was. Tight end Jared Cook ran outside and more than 10 yards behind Wright, who never saw Cook as he caught the ball and ran for a 20-yard gain to the Seahawks 16.
All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman, who played inside at nickelback for much of Sunday’s game with Marcus Burley and DeShawn Shead alternating outside at corner in five-back defense, ran over to Wright tapping the side of his helmet over his temple after Cook’s catch and free run. It was as if Sherman was telling Wright, “Think!”
The 20-yard completion set up Tavon Austin’s 16-yard run on the next play. And the game was tied.
In the third quarter, the Seahawks left Cook alone again behind the linebackers over the middle for a 30-yard gain to the Seattle 2. The Rams scored two plays later to go ahead 17-13.
From the press box — which admitted is up even with the rafters near the ceiling of the Edward Jones Dome — I counted at least five times a member of the Seahawks secondary wasn’t where one guy thought the other one was supposed to be. Coach Pete Carroll peeled away from the edge of the sideline watching the offense or Rams kickoffs back to the bench to talk on multiple occasions with Sherman after the lapses — and with Bailey often, especially in the first half.
“We had a few communication errors on a few plays,” Sherman said.
Asked if he was particularly concerned, he said: “Not really. It’s just (Week 1) rust, you know. First game, guys have got to come together.
Those breakdowns — plus the 75-yard punt return by Tavon Austin the Seahawks’ special teams gave up — put them behind 24-13 entering the final quarter, Bailey falling down in the final minute of regulation while in one-on-one coverage with tight end Lance Kendricks outside and Carroll’s choice to try a tricky, high, “pooch” kickoff that failed and gave the Rams the ball in Seahawks territory to begin overtime – that’s how Seattle gave up 34 points to these Rams.
No, they were far from “The Greatest Show on Turf.”
As were the Seahawks — who showed issues Chancellor’s unforeseen return wouldn’t necessarily fix all by itself.