Week 10 Players to Watch: Seahawks vs. Rams
The Seahawks are about out of mulligans.
And it’s largely their own fault.
They are 4-4 because they gave away the first two games, at Denver and at Chicago. They still feel they should have beaten the first-place Los Angeles Rams last month, when they lost by two points at home and a holding penalty pushed them out of field-goal range.
Now Seattle is just about out of games they can afford to lose. That is, if they want to get back to the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years. It’s going to take six more wins to ensure a realistic chance at a wild-card playoff berth. The Seahawks have eight games left, including Sunday’s rematch with the Rams (8-1) at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
So the sense has to be different this weekend for Seattle. Different than the usual “every game is a championship opportunity” coach Pete Carroll instills in his players.
“I think it’s always like a sense of urgency,” All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner said. “But definitely sitting at 4-4, you understand your mistakes are limited. You can’t throw away some of these games.
“We have a lot of home games (including Thursday night against Green Bay, then four of the last five in the regular season at CenturyLink Field), which can definitely work in our favor.
“We have to start making plays. It’s not about the urgency. It’s one thing we should have regardless where we’re at in the season. We’ve just got to start making our plays and stacking wins. We can’t win two games and lose two.”
To avoid losing two, after last weekend’s 25-17 loss to the Chargers, Wagner and the Seahawks must slow down the NFL’s top-ranked offense with the league’s leading rusher, Todd Gurley.
Wagner and Pro Bowl outside linebacker K.J. Wright must limit the horizontal plays and runs after underneath catches the Rams do more and better than anyone else in the NFL. Having strong safety Bradley McDougald in the middle would be a big help for Seattle. Its most consistent defensive player this season is questionable and will be a game-time decision because of a sore knee.
On offense the Seahawks must also try to approach the season-high 190 yards rushing they gained against Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh and Michael Brockers on the Rams’ star-packed defensive front in the first meeting Oct. 7.
Problem is, the Seahawks may not have their two most important players in their running game this time.
Chris Carson, who had a career-high 116 yards against the Rams last month, is questionable to play because of a soft-tissue injury in his left hip. Carroll said Friday he had “nothing to report” on Carson, other than that his playing status will be a game-time decision.
Massive right guard D.J. Fluker has been the Seahawks’ best run blocker as Seattle has featured inside power, pulls and wham blocks. He’s been the tough, exuberant spirit in the huddle and locker room. That’s made him pretty much invaluable to Seattle’s offense.
The last time the Seahawks played the Rams, Fluker pancaked the mighty Suh onto his back while Carson ran past them for a touchdown last month.
But Fluker’s hurt, too. He is questionable with a strained calf. He will be yet another critical, game-time decision.
How important are those two determinations before kickoff? The Seahawks are 0-3 when Carson doesn’t get at least 10 carries. They are 0-3 when Fluker misses game time because of injuries. Both happened last weekend in the second half of the loss to the Chargers, when Russell Wilson had to throw a season-high 39 times, exactly opposite how this offense functions best.
Wilson got sacked four times, his most since weeks one and two when Seattle didn’t have Fluker, ignored Carson and inexcusably threw it 73 percent of the time.
What also happened last weekend: Ten more penalties, often crushing ones such as the false start by left guard J.R. Sweezy before the last, untimed down. That pushed Seattle back from the 1-yard line to the 6. It changed what was likely to be a shotgun-run play to Mike Davis, the backup to Carson, to a more-desperate pass that the Chargers tipped just before it went off receiver David Moore’s chest in the back of the end zone to end a push for overtime.
This past week, offensive coordinator and play caller Brian Schottenheimer took responsibility for the flags. And he re-instituted the training-camp edict that players who false start in practice run sprints.
“We have to be better. I told the guys it starts with me,” Schottenheimer said. “We have to continue to emphasize it. I have to do a better job of explaining why penalties cost you games. This league is (so close) a lot of times, teams lose games, they don’t win games. We’ve talked a lot about that this week. ...
“It’s some focus. And these guys play tremendously hard. They give us everything that they have. But they need to play smarter in terms of not shooting ourselves in the foot. They know that. It starts with me. I’ve got to do a better job of holding them accountable.
“We’ve talked about a lot this week and hopefully it shows up this weekend.”
The Seahawks must run to keep the Donald, Suh, Brockers and new Rams edge rusher Dante Fowler from teeing off on Wilson— and more specifically Seattle’s offensive line. It has yet to prove it can protect Wilson when it doesn’t have Carson and the running game to set defenses back and make them pause before charging at Wilson.
It’s not that the Seahawks and specifically right tackle Germain Ifedi suddenly got excellent in pass protection throughout four wins in five games from late September until last weekend. It was that Seattle was running more and more effectively and thus passing less.
The Seahawks’ linemen were doing less of what it is worst at doing.
That needs to happen again on Sunday. Even if Jared Goff, Gurley and the Rams’ top-ranked offense take a lead early.
“We weren’t one-dimensional and they couldn’t focus on the pass,” left tackle Duane Brown said of the Seahawks’ first game against the Rams. “They have a very talented offense, and most teams, when you get down by a couple scores, you have to air the ball out a lot. And that’s when they pin their ears back.
“We were in the game (Oct. 7) the whole time, just going tic for tac. They had to be focused on the run game and couldn’t quite rush the passer like they wanted to.
“So that’s going to be crucial for us, to be able to do that again to be successful.”
Doing it again. That’s a theme these mostly young, new Seahawks are stressing on their way into the Coliseum Sunday.
“We’ve got to be a little bit more consistent,” Wagner said.
“I feel like we will. We’ve grown a lot. We’ve had a lot of young players grow through this process, experienced a lot of things, ups and downs, through this course of the season.
“I think we’re ready to kind of make that jump. And it’s a jump that we need to make.”