Seahawks Insider Blog

Chargers QB Philip Rivers masterfully counters Seahawks' nickel-or-not-nickel defense to control game, win

That's Russell Wilson after the Seahawks' 30-21 loss here in San Diego today. But, to be fair, the never really had a fair chance to win this one.

This one was on the defense.

Sure, as I wrote in this morning's News Tribune, the defensive-line rotation benefits the Seahawks. And the pass rush did get to Philip Rivers in the second half today, after reserves Jordan Hill and rookie Cassius Marsh began entering in the first quarter during hockey-like lane changes on the defensive front.

"I think we did a great job pass rushing," rush end Bruce Irvin said of Seattle's one sack and three quarterbacks hits -- all by Michael Bennett in Rivers' 39 called pass plays of the Seahawks' 30-21 loss on a broiling day when the temperature on the Qualcomm Stadium turf reached 120 degrees.

Problem was for Seattle, Rivers showed far more mobility than the Seahawks gave him credit for. More damaging, there wasn't the manpower to do the same subbing out in the defensive secondary as they did up front.

"We were getting there," Irvin said. "He was just getting the ball out most of the times. It wasn't like he was sitting back there just cookin' us. He was moving. He was making plays. I tip my hat to him."

Three of the four Seahawks' starting defensive backs -- first Earl Thomas, then Kam Chancellor and Byron Maxwell -- went to the locker room during the second half to get intravenous fluids to combat cramps. Thomas, from southeast Texas, said it was the first time he ever had to do that. The fourth DB, Richard Sherman, was bent over during one time out in the third quarter.

The biggest statistic of the game was, of course, San Diego converting 10 of 17 third downs into first downs. That exhausted the defense on a broiling day when the on-field temperature reached 120 degrees. It also reduced Russell Wilson, Percy Harvin, Marshawn Lynch and the Seahawks' offense to the most talented spectators in the NFL on Sunday.

Rivers was adept at a game-long chess match with the Seahawks and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. Quinn played nickel defense, five defensive backs, 92 percent of the time last week when Green Bay went mostly with three- and four-wide receiver sets. When San Diego went three and four wide today, Quinn seemed reluctant to go into nickel. That was because Jeremy Lane is out with a groin strain for at least the next seven weeks, and the nickel back was Marcus Burley, who wasn't on the team until a trade with the Colts on Aug. 30.

When the Seahawks stayed in base defense, Rivers found 6-foot-6 tight end Antonio Gates matched up on linebackers K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner for first downs en route to their three connections three touchdowns. When Quinn eventually went to more nickel beginning in the second quarter after San Diego's 10-point first period, Rivers countered with what appeared to be check-with-me audibles at the line into draw-play runs to Ryan Matthews and Danny Woodhead. That exploited the one fewer Seahawks linebacker in the middle.

That's how the Chargers controlled the ball for 42:15 (to Seattle's 17:45), how they rendered the Seahawks' offense moot -- and how San Diego sent the Seahawks to their sixth loss in 31 regular-season and postseason games dating to the the middle of the 2012 season.

I thought Wagner -- great again today with 10 tackles after tying his career-best with 14 last week -- put it best in the locker room after this one.

“We definitely aren’t used to this,” Wagner said. “But at the same time we lost A GAME. It’s not the end of the world. It doesn’t mean we are out of it. It doesn’t mean our season’s over. It’s one game.

“That’s what we do. We lost this game. It’s, ‘What’s next?’ Next game is Denver.”