The Seahawks got back early last night from what coach Pete Carroll today called "a real disappointing trip" to St. Louis. The 28-26 loss in which Seattle fell behind 21-3 in the second quarter leaves the Seahawks 3-3 and in third place in the NFC West. They are a game behind San Francisco and two behind Arizona, each of which they've yet to play.
So there's that.
The three defeats are as many losses as Seattle had in 19 games last season through the Super Bowl. As yesterday against the previously 1-4 Rams reminded them, and us, this sure isn't last year.
One of the primary differences between the 2013 and '14 Seahawks has been the lack of a consistent pass rush. Since beginning this season with three sacks of Aaron Rodgers in the 36-16 victory over Green Bay, the Seahawks have just four sacks in five games. Only winless Oakland and St. Louis have fewer than Seattle's seven sacks this season.
(The Rams were setting an NFL record with one sack in its first five games until the Seahawks allowed them to dump Russell Wilson three times in yesterday's first half -- but that's another glaring Seattle issue we've been discussing for months/years.)
Seven sacks in six games. Last season at this time the Seahawks had 20, on their way to 44 sacks that tied them for eighth in the league last season.
The difference? Clinton McDonald (5.5 sacks last season) is in Tampa Bay now. Chris Clemons (4.5 sacks in 2013) is in Jacksonville. Rookie defensive end Cassius Marsh went on injured reserve last week with a broken foot. Defensive tackle Jordan Hill remains out with a sprained ankle, though Carroll said today he may practice this week. But Hill has no sacks and five tackles in five games.
So does O'Brien Schofield, after excelling in the pass rush all preseason.
The reduced depth and production along the defensive line has meant far more snaps this season for Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril. They are staying on the field for most running and passing downs. Bennett played 44 of the defense's 49 snaps yesterday against the Rams. Avril played 34 snaps. Bennett has three sacks this season, but none in the last four games. Avril hasn't had a sack since the opener.
The plan entering the season wasn't to have Bennett playing 90 percent of the snaps.
Defensive-line coach Travis Jones told me in August one of the key reasons the Seahawks' pass-rush was so explosive and affected so many games late last season, including ruining Peyton Manning and Denver's Super Bowl, was because their pass rushers were so fresh from all the rotating early in games and deep production Seattle got up front all year.
Those days of the front four affecting quarterbacks have ended. In turn, the defense that led the league in interceptions has just two INTs in six games. Only the Jets have fewer this season. Seattle, with the pass rush rolling last season and affecting QBs into rushed, bad decisions and bad throws, had 28 interceptions to lead the league last season.
Quarterbacks have had more time this season against Seattle to make better decisions and better throws. And when at times the defensive front has gotten to the QB, the Seahawks haven't brought him down.
Such as yesterday: second and 12 with 3:09 left and the Rams backed up on their 9-yard line, leading 28-26. Seattle was using its final two time outs and was gaining position to get the ball back at midfield before the 2-minute warning. Malcolm Smith had scrambling-for-his-life Austin Davis in front of him on the right edge for a sack that would have made it third and 14-ish at the Rams 7. Smith missed the tackle. That gave Davis time to find tight end Jared Cook for 9-yard pass in the right flat. It's third and 3 instead. Richard Sherman breaks up the next pass, and Rams coach Jeff Fisher is emboldened to try the fake punt that works and essentially dooms that final chance at a Seahawks drive and winning score.
If Smith brings down Davis, does Fisher call the fake punt on fourth and a dozen or so?
If Bruce Irvin succeeds in two swipes at Tony Romo two games ago, before Romo escapes and hits Terrance Williams on a stupendous catch on third and 20 late in the fourth quarter with the Cowboys down 23-20, do the Seahawks win that game?
That's how important not affecting the quarterback has been this season compared to last for the Seahawks.
And that's why Carroll said today the Seahawks are changing the way they conduct their pass rush.
"Our rotations aren't like they were a year ago. And we're going to try to make that work in the favor of the guys rushing the passer the best we can," is how Carroll put it today.
"The inability to affect the quarterback has really been a factor, so there's some things we have to do that will change us a little bit from what we've been in the past. So we'll make those moves. It's pretty clear where our focus is. So we are going to see if we get right and play some good football and get going."
Because there are no other pass rushers emerging on the thinning, tiring defensive line, that change is going to be less reliance on just four men rushing -- and far more on blitzing from linebackers, safeties, cornerbacks, water boys ... whomever they can find.
Last season, when they had the league's top-ranked pass defense, the Seahawks blitzed only 21.3 percent of the time. That was 28th-most in the 32-team NFL.
So yes, the Seahawks are changing on defense. It will be higher risk. They are about to find out if it will yield higher rewards than what they've been getting.
"We've been very similar, but the results aren't the same," Carroll said. "So we have to adjust."
--Carroll said Derrick Coleman could miss six weeks after a freaky injury yesterday when the fullback broke a bone on the outside of his foot during pregame warm-ups just running on the indoor turf in St. Louis. Robert Turbin, who usually spells Marshawn Lynch at tailback and in the hurry-up offense, learned as he was running onto the field to begin the game that he was going to be the fullback.
Carroll said of Turbin as the emergency fullback against the Rams: "He got through it," which I am learning is a tepid Carroll euphemism. He said that same phrase about Steven Terrell being forced by Byron Maxwell's calf strain to play 22 plays two games ago against Dallas, and the Seahawks waived Terrell the next day (they have since brought him back).
So will there be a signing of a fullback this week?
"We'll have to see how it works this week, how it turns out," Carroll said.
Don't expect Michael Robinson to be coming back to the Seahawks to fill their need at fullback while Coleman mends that broken foot. Robinson, who is now an NFL Network analyst after he left the team and the league following last season, recently voiced his opinion Seattle's coaches are trying to win QB Russell Wilson the league most valuable player award by having him run and throw so much. It was seen as a defense of his good friend Lynch, an opinion Lynch should run the ball more.
Carroll's response: Why would you not at least look at it? What's the rush? At least look at it.
"It's the end of the game, the decisive play, why would you not take the time to review it," Carroll said.
--More on the Percy Harvin trade to the Jets: Asked how long he'd known Harvin may be volatile issue or was a bad fit for the Seahawks, Carroll replied: "I've known Percy since he was in high school -- didn't get very close to getting him (to come to USC) -- but been following him for a long time."
Read that as you may. I read that as Carroll knew what he was getting into when the Seahawks traded for Harvin in March 2013. And as Carroll reiterated Monday, he thought he could make it work with him in Seattle. It didn't.
Asked again why Harvin refused to go back into the Dallas game in the fourth quarter, Carroll shrugged, smiled and said: "He's a Jet."
That was better than the answer he gave me yesterday in St. Louis: "I'm done with that. Thanks."
--Carroll says CB Tharold Simon has a "light sprain" of ankle. The coach said Simon and Maxwell both have chance to play Sunday at Carolina. Simon was "over aggressive" on the pass-interference and face-mask penalties in the first half against the Rams before he got hurt and did not return, Carroll said.
--Sounds like TE Luke Willson will play against the Panthers. Carroll said Willson will be back practicing definitely by Thursday. The fill-in while starter Zach Miller recovers from ankle surgery (he's still in a boot), Willson was close to playing against the Rams before the Seahawks decided to rest for another few days the groin he strained in last Wednesday's practice.
--Center Max Unger is a possibility to play after missing the last two games with a sprained foot. "Max is working at it, we'll see what happens as the week goes on," Carroll said.
The coach said Stephen Schilling, the fill-in at center, is OK. He came out of the game for a few plays in the second half yesterday.
--Carroll said again "it's going to be a while" before middle linebacker Bobby Wagner returns from turf toe. That means K.J. Wright, who struggled moving inside yesterday, will likely play there again at Carolina.