MMQB: Seahawks 24, Rams 22

It didn't come until the final seconds of the game, but the Seattle Seahawks finally put away the St. Louis Rams 24-22 on a Josh Brown field goal. By winning the game, Seattle essentially made a stranglehold on the NFC West (barring a collapse, even conservative predictions give Seattle a huge advantage). In many ways it was a strange game.

For the first time since divisional relocation, the Seahawks/Rams game wasn't an offensive fireworks show but instead hinged on each team's defense and special teams. It was also another game where the Seahawks looked like champions in one half but like pretenders in the other. But again the Seahawks showed their mental toughness and earned a “W”. That can't be overstated; this team doesn't give up, even when it lacks the magic that seemed to possess the team in '05.

Seattle Seahawks 24, St. Louis Rams 22
Sunday, November 12th, 2006
Qwest Field, Seattle, Washington

Play of The Game: What else but Nate Burleson's 90 yard punt return for a touchdown? When St. Louis punted the ball with 8:38 remaining in the game, the fans held little hope of the offense driving down the field for a score. And with good reason, since the offense had mustered all of 16 yards since halftime. Burleson provided that spark of hope when he caught the punt, move out of a tackle, and sprinted down the sideline for a touchdown. The Seahawks looked energized after the return and the confidence remained throughout the rest of the game.

Bringing Their “A” Game: Nate Burleson, due to his 90 yard punt return... MLB Lofa Tatupu, who had 10 tackles and was all over the field... DT Chuck Darby, who had two sacks and stepped up for the injured Marcus Tubbs... CB Marcus Trufant, for not getting burned by Tory Holt (a first) and making a couple nice plays on the ball... QB Seneca Wallace, 15/23 for 161 yards (2 TDs) passing, and another 30 yards rushing on two carries, despite a lot of protection problems up front... RB Maurice Morris ran 21 times for 124 yards - that's a 5.9 average... LG Floyd Womack, who opened a ton of holes on the left side, kept DTs out of Wallace's face, and looked darn sexy doing it... WR Darrell Jackson, who had five catches for 85 yards and score... RE Grant Wistrom, notching a sack and applying decent pressure all game... DT Rocky Bernard, who had a much greater impact than his two tackles indicate... K Josh Brown deserves a parade held in his honor for the clutch kicks, this game and throughout the season.

The Bad and The Ugly: RT Tom Ashworth looked putrid all game... The entire line struggled with protection up front, with the Rams notching 6 sacks and forcing Wallace to hurry several throws... WR Deion Branch was shut down through much of the game, and that WR-reverse-pass was ugly... Mike Holmgren had a putrid 2nd half, with the offense accomplishing almost nothing... Despite getting good pressure on Bulger, the Seahawks were not able to sack Bulger very often, which was very frustrating... The run defense was a huge problem, as Steven Jackson seemingly could not be stopped.

Referee Report Card: Honestly, it could have been worse. Only three penalties went against Seattle, and that 15-yard penalty on RG Richie Incognito was absolutely huge. Both teams got away with some blatant holding, but overall a well-refereed game.

Offense: It all starts up front. Building on the confidence generated against Oakland, Maurice Morris continued his success against St. Louis. But while Morris' success stayed the same, his style changed once again. Against Oakland, Morris used several late cutbacks to his advantage and kept the defense on their toes. Against St. Louis, Morris was very much a one-cut runner, using his burst to pick up very nice yardage. Morris has been running this way all year, with the exception of the Oakland game. Speed is definitely the strength of Morris, and he showed off that speed with a couple of long runs early in the game, and probably could have had more if Holmgren had used him in the 2nd half. The best part of Morris' running is he didn't get hit behind the line of scrimmage very often. The running game actually looks potent.

But Morris isn't the difference. The difference is that the offensive line is finally opening up holes. Chalk it up to the Rams' pathetic defense, Womack's return, or replacing Tobeck with Spencer, but Morris finally had daylight to run through. Morris is still the same back who was averaging 2.9 yards a carry two games ago, the difference is that the offensive line is actually interested in opening holes. LT Walter Jones and LG Floyd Womack deserve the majority of the credit, as the run blocking on the left in particular was great. If the line opens up holes for Morris he's fast enough to burst through them and pick up yards. Unfortunately, if the line doesn't open up holes for Morris he's light enough to be brought down using an arm tackle. Today, the holes were open for Morris.

The Seahawks would have had a much better second half if Holmgren would have kept running Morris. Only under Holmgren can a running back pick up 7,8,9 yards a carry in the first half and get fed the ball only 9 times in the second half, despite being within a touchdown of the lead the entire game. It isn't as if Morris was having trouble running in the second half either - he had runs of 15, 14, and 10 yards in the 2nd half. The Rams defense struggled all day against the run, but the Seahawks didn't exploit that advantage as well as they could have. Holmgren's play calling was questionable in other areas as well. WR Deion Branch lost three yards on a reverse-receiver-pass play, but mixing it up isn't necessarily a bad thing (Saints RB Reggie Bush scored his first touchdown from scrimmage Sunday on a reverse), the real problem was the execution. It didn't look like a well-practiced play. Most infuriating was the predictability in Holmgren's play calling. Every 2nd-half drive went “Pass” “Run” “Pass”, and usually ended in “Punt”.

QB Seneca Wallace was harassed all day by the Rams, thanks to some lousy pass protection. The offense started the game off by spotting the Rams 6 points, after unblocked Rams DE Leonard Little sacked Wallace and forced a fumble, which DE Victor Adeyanju scooped up and ran back for the touchdown. That was the first of an eye-popping six sacks, especially since Wallace had to scramble a few times to avoid getting sacked more. That 31 yard scramble by Seneca Wallace was another of those “holy crap” sorts of runs. Wallace is probably the second most athletic QB in the league, behind Michael Vick, and Wallace is arguably a better passer. I keep waiting for Wallace just to get dominated, but the man is a fighter and has enough smarts to avoid the really stupid mistakes.

Responsible for half of Seneca's passing yards was WR Darrell Jackson, who had another great game, reeling in 5 passes for 85 yards and score. Darrell has his flaws, mainly the drops, but he is able to get open better than any receiver on the team and has been excellent at finding the end zone. Most importantly for the short term, Jackson seemed to click with Wallace much better today than previously. Jackson had two key short receptions (one for a touchdown and one for a first down that made Josh Brown's field goal attempt a chip shot), as well as three catches for bigger gains. Hopefully this is a sign that Wallace and Jackson are developing the same type of chemistry that Matt Hasselbeck and Jackson have.

Defense: Imagine my surprise when I looked at the box score and saw that Steven Jackson only had 93 yards on the day. Sure, it came on only 18 carries (5.2 YPC average), but it seemed like defense was much more porous. Of course, when you're pleasantly surprised that a running back only average 5.2 YPC against you, that says enough about the game. Jackson had a lot of success running the ball, numbers be damned. Much as our offensive line was able to push around the Rams' line, the Rams' offensive line had similar success against our defensive line. Jackson took a page from the book of Chiefs RB Larry Johnson, patiently waiting for blocks before exploding into our undersized linebackers. MLB Lofa Tatupu was able to bring Jackson down a lot, but Jackson had little trouble from LBs LeRoy Hill and Julian Peterson, who were taken out of the game by steady blocking.

Surprisingly, Jackson had the most success running between the tackles and guards, not straight up the gut. Many, myself included, predicted a lot of trouble would be caused by not having injured DT Marcus Tubbs available. While Tubbs certainly would have made a difference, a lot of props have to be given to DT Chuck Darby. Aside from a great game against the pass, Darby held his own in the running game and didn't get overpowered. Rocky Bernard has appeared inspired the past three or four games, and had another very solid game. He only had two tackles, but the numbers have rarely been more misleading than that. He played very well, bursting through the line on key downs and keeping Jackson from converting on a couple of key 3rd downs.

Better yet was Tatupu's resurgence. Tatupu didn't have a great game against the Chiefs, and was largely quiet against the Raiders. However, Tatupu really came on against the Rams and was everywhere. Holmgren is going to have a hard time not giving this man a gameball. It also seemed like Lofa was directing the other players around more than we've seen this season. The “butt-tapping” that characterized Tatupu last season isn't occurring as often, but you're seeing Tatupu wave his arms about more, signaling adjustments to the defense. A lot of credit for Seattle's 3rd quarter defense belongs to Tatupu as well. The Rams continually had the ball in the red zone, thanks to a nonexistent offense, but the defense kept them from scoring for the longest time. In the red zone especially Tatupu was active pre-snap, especially with the coverage units. Overall it was a great game by Tatupu to keep the Rams out of the end zone as many times as he did.

After notching nine sacks against the Raiders, the line was much worse against the Rams... or was it? Seattle notched four sacks, which is certainly a respectable number of sacks, but Bulger also seemed to have a lot of time sitting in the pocket. Against Andrew Walter, or Marc Bulger last year, Seattle would have had several more sacks. Bulger's newfound allowance to check down to Steven Jackson is turning sacks and the occasional stupid interception, which previously defined Bulger's career, into gains of 5-10 yards. The defensive line wasn't able to get TO Bulger as much as they wanted, but the pressure was actually very good, the problem was that checkdowns are very effective pass plays against cover two defenses, since the RB is rarely picked up until after he leaves the backfield.

Perhaps it was the pressure, perhaps it was some new coaching technique, but for the second straight game CB Marcus Trufant has looked excellent. Trufant's biggest knock is that he is seldom making plays on the ball, but Trufant played very well against a very potent Rams receiving group, including a couple nice plays where Trufant was able to get a hand on the ball and knock it down. I would be remiss if I did not give some props to the oft maligned Kelly Herndon, who also had a good game against the Rams. For the second straight week the cornerbacks have been playing much more aggressively, hopefully this is a sign that something has changed with the coaching, and we'll continue to see aggressive play by our cornerbacks and cautious play by our safeties.

And perhaps the most actively debated topic among Seahawks fans: Ken Hamlin's interception. Some fans say that it was a boneheaded play by a boneheaded player, others will argue that it was an unfortunate play that is destined to happen. The latter are correct. Every coach in every league will teach their defensive backs to make the catch when the opportunity presents itself. There is a risk every time a defensive player tips a ball, that an offensive player will catch it off the tip. By catching the ball, Hamlin removed any risk of that happening. It is also instinctive, most defenders break on the ball and instinctively want to catch it. Lastly, Hamlin has financial considerations. That interception is going to look really nice when Hamlin's agent is in contract negotiations, since defensive backs are (wrongly) judged by their interception total - how else could Ty Law negotiate a multi-year deal, given his shaky knees and tendency to get burned deep? It was unfortunate that Hamlin didn't drop the ball, but can you imagine the uproar if Hamlin had just let it bounce off of him, and Holt had somehow used his amazing powers to bring it in for a 1st down?

Special Teams: WOW. For the third straight week, the Special Teams unit appeared special. And not in the typical Raiders fan drooling-in-the-corner sort of special, but in the playing well sort of special. Nate Burleson obviously had the big play, and Trufant had a great block there. Brown continues to impress with his ability to nail game-winning field goals. The coverage units played well on both punts and kickoffs, and Ryan Plackemeier had a pretty good game punting, despite very inclement weather.

Summary: The Rams and the Seahawks never have a dull game. It is always a matchup that leads to a lot of points (this was the lowest scoring Ram-Seahawk game since realignment) and a lot of grey hairs on the heads of the coaching staff. While it was a tough win, and Seattle made a lot of mistakes, it's hard not to feel very good about a win with this sort of importance. Seattle has made it through the toughest part of the schedule, the biggest challenge the Seahawks face next week is not getting lulled with overconfidence... With these Seahawks, expect the team to come out ready to play.

Special Thanks to: Scott Linehan, for throwing a red challenge flag that kept St. Louis from completing a field goal. Richie Incognito, for his boneheaded personal foul penalty that gave Seattle great field position. Couldn't have done it without you two!


Kyle Rota is our MMQB, and is also known as "Rotak" on our message boards. You can e-mail him here.


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