MMQB: Seahawks 28, Rams 0

The Seattle Seahawks pitch a shutout against division rival St. Louis in Jim Mora's head coaching debut.

Seattle Seahawks 28, St. Louis Rams 0
Sunday, September 13, 2009
Qwest Field
Seattle, WA

Play of the Day: Including third quarterbacks, 92 players dressed for Sunday's game and not one of them turned in Sunday's "Play of the Day". That distinction belongs to replay official Jim Lapetina, who suspected that the Rams had twelve players on the field during Seahawks kicker Olindo Mare's 49-yard field goal attempt, which was blocked by Rams defensive end C.J. Ah You and returned 49 yards for a touchdown by reserve cornerback Quincy Butle, which would've tied the game at 7-7 with less than a minute remaining in the first half.

Lapetina's instincts were right, and not only was the play overturned, a five-yard penalty was assessed against the Rams, resulting in a first down for the Seahawks. Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck connected with Nate Burleson for a 12-yard touchdown three plays later, making Lapetina's challenge a 14-point swing on the scoreboard.

Handouts to the Standouts: Hasselbeck shook off his two early interceptions to complete 25-of-36 passes for 279 yards and 3 touchdowns, finishing with a passer rating of 96.9. Hasselbeck was at his best in the 2nd and 3rd quarters, where he led the Seahawks to touchdown drives of 58, 64, 99, and 62 yards.

Second-year tight end John Carlson showed why he belongs in the NFC Pro Bowl discussion with six receptions for a team-high 95 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Carlson showed excellent concentration while hauling in a 33-yard touchdown pass, adjusting on a pass that was either tipped or thrown slightly behind him to get in for the score. On the previous play, Carlson caught a Hasselbeck pass on a crossing route and alertly covered the ball as he rumbled or additional yardage.

Burleson finished with a team-high 7 receptions for 74 yards and a touchdown. He did fumble during an early reception, but Burleson made some tough catches and showed off his YAC skills. By halftime, Burleson's six receptions, 68 yards and a touchdown in the 1st half eclipsed or equaled his 2008 receiving totals.

Julius Jones has three 100-yard games as a Seahawk, and two of them have come against the Rams in Qwest Field. Today, Jones ran hard and finished with 117 yards on 19 carries, including a 62-yard touchdown run that put the final nail in the Rams' coffin. He also added a pair of receptions for 19 yards.

The Rams defense isn't very good, but the offensive line deserves a pat on the back for their effort yesterday. Seattle ran for 167 yards and in Hasselbeck's 36 pass attempts, he wasn't sacked once. For the game, the Rams only registered 2 quarterback hits, and none of them were by starting defensive ends Leonard Little and Chris Long, the latter of which was kept off the stat sheet entirely.

Lawrence Jackson, the much-maligned 2008 1st round pick, only had a pair of tackles, but one of them was a quarterback sack. His impact on the game, however, goes beyond the stat sheet. He was constantly in the right position, forcing Steven Jackson inside for other defenders to make plays. While the officials missed a blatant hold, Jackson did draw Richie Incognito's first personal foul penalty. Darryl Tapp, the other backup defensive end, also had a strong game, finishing with 3 tackles and nearly intercepting a screen pass. Tapp was a disruptive force throughout the game, breaking up a wide receiver screen late in the fourth quarter.

Josh Wilson broke up three passes and finished with a team-high five tackles.

Things That Made Me Go "Blech!": Two of the Seahawks' starting three linebackers, arguably the best set of 4-3 linebackers in the NFL, suffered injuries that prevented them from finishing the game. Leroy Hill injured a groin muscle midway through the 1st quarter and was done for the day, while middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu injured his hamstring in the 3rd quarter. The severity of Hill's and Tatupu's leg injuries are believed to be minor, though more should be known in the next 24-48 hours.

Had they been playing any other team on their schedule other than the Rams, the Seahawks likely wouldn't have been able to survive committing three turnovers in the first quarter like they did on Sunday. It's a positive that they overcame that adversity, and rallied as a team, but a stronger opponent would've been buried the Seahawks in an early hole.

Deion Branch's hamstring not allowing him to go today wasn't surprising, which is why even his most ardent supporters, of which I'm one, have lost patience and are wondering if perhaps the team would've been better off releasing him before his base salary become guaranteed in favor of a Courtney Taylor or Logan Payne.

Ok, this is admittedly very nit-picky, but whoever is advising Mora to challenge plays ensured that Mora's challenge record got off to a Holmgrenesque beginning. Mora challenged whether or not a punt, that pinned the ‘Hawks at their own four-yard line, should've been ruled a touchback midway through the first quarter. Even to the naked eye, the Rams punt coverage unit had done an outstanding job of covering team MVP Donnie Jones' punt, but challenging that, midway through the 1st quarter, was a head-scratcher.

Offense: "Balance" was the most-used word when Greg Knapp took over as offensive coordinator and gameday play-calling, and after Week 1, where Seattle had 34 runs and 36 passes, one might look at the total picture and assume it was a balanced attack.

But it's pretty clear that the Seahawks are at their best when Hasselbeck is distributing the ball to T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Burleson, and Carlson, and their middle of the road when on the ground. The best evidence of this came in the final 6 ½ minutes of the game, where the Seahawks' offense could've thanked the defense for stepping up and shutting out the Rams through 3 ½ quarters by getting a few first downs on the ground and keeping the clock moving.

It's what even the most average of running games should be capable of doing with a 28-0 lead at home, yet the Seahawks couldn't convert a 2nd-and-2, or a 3rd-and-2, and had to punt. On the next offensive series, inside the two-minute warning, the Seahawks couldn't even get to the kneel down, losing a yard on 3rd-and-1 and once again having to punt the ball away with 1:24 to go in the game.

So while the surface numbers look great (167 yards, 4.9 per carry), there's a lot of work that needs to be done in the ground game.

After early hiccups by Hasselbeck, the Seahawks passing game looks very good. Burleson and Houshmandzadeh gives the Seahawks their first pair of physical wide receivers on the outside in a very long time and Carlson is poised for a breakout season. It would've been nice to see Deon Butler be more involved in the passing game (3 targets, 1 reception for 7 yards), but the ‘Hawks got Ben Obomanu involved late in the game, and the Wallace-to-Hasselbeck-back to Wallace razzle-dazzle play is just the sort of play Seahawks fans have wanted to see the last four years.

Defense: There were only six shutouts in the NFL last season, so what the Seahawks defense on Sunday shouldn't be discounted solely because the opponent isn't considered to be very good. It's a rare accomplishment they should be proud of.

Another feat they can be proud of is the way they bottled up and frustrated Rams running back Steven Jackson. Aside from his 22-yard run in the 4th quarter, he faced a stout Seahawks' front that often laid punishing hits on the 231-pound running back, including one by Aaron Curry that earned the praise of FOX analyst John Lynch, a nine-time Pro Bowler who certainly appreciates a hard, clean tackle. Curry also appeared to get inside Jackson's head, drawing a 15-yard personal foul penalty on Jackson at the end of the 1st half and prompting Jackson to jab at him, which averted the eyes of the officials. Defensive tackles Colin Cole (3 tackles) and Brandon Mebane (1 tackle, 1 sack, 2 QB hits) clogged the middle well, with Craig Terrill rotating in as the third tackle with Red Bryant and Michael Bennett declared inactive.

The Rams no longer have the "Greatest Show on Turf", but the Seahawks can be encouraged by the play of its pass defense. The blitzes and stunts that Jim Mora and defensive coordinator Gus Bradley dialed up resulted in three sacks (Jackson, Tatupu, Mebane) and four other hits on Rams quarterback Marc Bulger.

When Bulger was given time, the secondary covered well forcing Bulger to check down or throw the ball away. While Wilson had a solid game, Ken Lucas sort of struggled a bit, missing a few tackles a player his size should make and giving up the 45-yard pass play to Laurent Robinson late in the 4th quarter. Lucas did atone by breaking up a fade route in the end zone two plays later. Nickel corner Kelly Jennings' name wasn't being muttered under the breaths of 67,000 people, so that's a positive sign. New starting free safety Jordan Babineaux was 1-for-2 on deep plays, breaking up a 47-yard pass to Robinson in the 3rd quarter, but not making the play on the 45-yarder in the 4th.

Special Teams: If it weren't an eagle-eyed replay official spotting a 12th Ram on the field, this section would be lot longer. So instead of ripping the special teams for allowing a blocked field/touchdown at the end of the half, we can instead focus on how Olindo Mare put four of his five kickoffs into the end zone, three going for touchbacks. The opening kick was returnable, but special teams captain Lance Laury forced a fumble which Will Herring recovered, and the other kick return was innocuously returned for 22 yards.

Jon Ryan put two of his five punts into the end zone, but he and the coverage unit only allowed the Rams to return punt. Unfortunately, that one return went for 24 yards and kept the Rams from being pinned inside the 10-yard line near the south end zone.  

Since the Rams were kept off the scoreboard, Josh Wilson was only needed to return one kick, which he did for 20 yards. Meanwhile, Seattle's punt returner-by-committee saw Burleson and Justin Forsett combine for 28 yards on four returns (7.0 avg).

Notes: On his first NFL rush attempt, Forsett gained 7 yards. He finished the day with 17 yards on 3 carries…Third-round wide receiver Butler gained 7 yards on his 1st NFL reception…Sunday was the first time the Seahawks had ever shut out the St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams…The Seahawks improved to 12-22 all-time on Opening Day and 3-0 in season-openers at Qwest Field…Mora improved to 4-0 in Opening Day games as an NFL head coach…Sunday was the 4th time the Seahawks have shut their opponent out on Opening Day. The last time was a 38-0 blanking of the Philadelphia Eagles in 1998.

Summary: Jim Mora would be very greedy if he had asked for a better way to start his tenure as the Seahawks head coach. Seattle overcome some early adversity, racked up 446 yards of total offense, and shut out a division rival in a season-opening win at Qwest Field on a sunny, 73 degree day in his hometown.

But Mora is smart enough to know that with the way the Seahawks played early, they're fortunate to have even won the game at all and that the road only gets tougher from here. So while this was an excellent first step, and it's a win that is to be enjoyed, a lot of work is needed in all three phases of the game for this team to accomplish their goals.

Next week: The Seahawks make their shortest road trip of the season to face the San Francisco 49ers, who opened their 2009 season with a 20-16 win over the defending NFC West champion Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix stadium on Sunday.

In addition to writing for NorthwestFootball.net, Brian McIntyre blogs daily at Mac's Football Blog and writes for FalconInsider.com on the Scout network. If you'd like to e-mail Brian, you may do so by clicking here.

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