The Seahawks were 3-1 and clicking after a last-second Hail Mary victory over the Green Bay Packers. Meanwhile, their division rival, the St Louis Rams, were attempting to find a new identity. After a short period as the “Greatest Show On Turf,” the Rams had faded to mediocrity. Since 2002, the team had had no winning seasons, with two seasons being 8-8. A culture change was in order, and the Rams believed they had found the man to do it, long-time Tennessee Titans head coach Jeff Fisher. During Fisher’s sixteen year tenure in Tennessee, his teams had had up and down performances. Still, he had pieced together six +10 win seasons, one season leading a championship appearance in Super Bowl XXXIV, coincidentally a Rams victory.
Fisher had a no-nonsense attitude to him, an old school disciplinarian, which some felt was perfect for a Rams team that was talented but under-performing. In many ways, Fisher’s philosophical approach to coaching, in terms of player management, was the opposite from the Seahawks’ Pete Carroll, who had taken his trademark enthusiasm from University of Southern California to the National Football League.
The Running Game
Both the Seahawks and the Rams had built their offenses around their star tailbacks. For the Rams, it was Steven Jackson. The single-man juggernaut had been a perennial star, with seven consecutive +1,000 yard seasons and 52 career touchdowns. Yet, his 2012 season had been anything but stellar. Over three games, Jackson had only 41 carries and a 3.41-yard average, the lowest of his career. His Seahawks counterpart, Marshawn Lynch, was on an opposite trajectory. Beast Mode had received 72 carries, and his 4.23-yard average was a tick above his career average of 4.01. More importantly, the Seahawks passing offense had been proficient, but had not capitalized on scoring opportunities, meaning Lynch carried an even larger burden.
Early in the first quarter, Lynch (24) was lined up behind fullback Michael Robinson (26) when Russell Wilson delayed snapping the ball. Rams’ linebacker Rocky McIntosh (50), on the bottom side of the play, was on the line of scrimmage. From Wilson’s perspective, he saw McIntosh down-low and open field up high. By tapping his left foot, Wilson indicated that he was changing the direction of the run. Wide receiver Ben Obomanu (87) motioned across the formation, so he could function as an extra blocker for Lynch. Even though Wilson handled this portion of the play correctly, the poor cadence he used—one of many instances where the Rams abused his predictability—allowed defensive tackle Kendall Langford to time the snap.
Lynch was instantly under duress. He made it past Langford’s ankle tackle, somehow maneuvering through the mess of Rams’ defenders Michael Brockers (90), Eugene Sims (92), and Jo-Lonn Dunbar (58), and Seahawks’ blockers Russell Okung (76), James Carpenter (77) and Robinson. Safety Craig Dahl (43) had crashed to assist in the tackle. He was out of position on Lynch and could not oppose Lynch’s stiff-arm.
The offense was showing a run, but Wilson kept the ball after the fake exchange, running a bootleg outside of the pocket. In this example, the offensive line did its job, with every block being solid. However, Russ was unable to find a receiving target. He tucked the ball, scrambling to the opposite side of the field. At the beginning of the play, Lynch was supposed to block but found he had no hat to cover. Nonetheless, he kept his focus on the game, observing Wilson, and upon seeing Wilson crossing back, Lynch took off, getting behind the defenders charging at Wilson. Wilson squeezed in a throw.
Unfortunately, Lynch was the sole bright spot to the afternoon. Rookie Russell Wilson had had a promising start to the season, but this Sunday saw his receiving core fail him. Midway through the second quarter, Doug Baldwin mishandled a catch. It went through Baldwin’s hands to cornerback Trumaine Johnson. In the middle of the third, Wilson had his throwing arm chopped by cornerback Janoris Jenkins, resulting in a wild pass that was intercepted. To close the game, while the Seahawks were driving for the go-ahead score, tight end Anthony McCoy slipped onto his knees, exposing an otherwise perfect pass to Bradley Fletcher.
Both teams were struggling on offense, and so the game turned into a battle of whom could convert the most unlikely play on special teams. The Rams used a fake field goal to score a touchdown, confusing the Seahawks by exploiting a little known rule. All of the Rams’ players lined up for the kick, except receiver Danny Amendola was near his own sideline, outside of the numbers. After catching a touchdown pass from punter John Hekker, he initially drew a flag for his poor alignment. After a conference among the officials, it was determined that, since Amendola had participated in the previous play, he did not need to line up inside the numbers.
Coming out of the half, hoping to catch the Rams sleeping, the Seahawks attempted an onside kick, which they failed to recover.
In desperate need of a spark, kick returner Leon Washington went to work.
Placekicker Greg Zuerlein (4) hit a beauty that went five yards deep into the end zone. Washington (33) decided to field the kick, running up the gut behind blockers Lemuel Jeanpierre (61) and JR Sweezy (64). In doing so, Washington drew Rams’ safety Rodney McLeod (23) into the gap between Jeanpierre and Sweezy. McLeod created a mess of tumbling bodies while Washington crossed over into the space McLeod had vacated. Washington split defenders Josh Hull (56), double teamed by Mike Morgan (57) and Heath Farwell (55), and Craig Dahl (43), blocked by Jeron Johnson (32). Washington was slowed down by Zuerlein, with Zuerlein’s effort most likely preventing a touchdown.
Zuerlein proved to be the Rams’ MVP. Not only had he prevented Washington’s touchdown return, he converted field goals from 58 and 60-yards, helping the Rams gain points against a stout Seahawks’ defense.
The Hawks were in desperate need of a stop, and the defense won on 3rd and 1. Safety Earl Thomas (29) cheated the play, fully committed to stopping the run as he charged to the line of scrimmage. Thomas’s pathway was plowed by the big Brandon Mebane (92), who charged forward and tripped up Jackson’s ankles. Bobby Wagner (54) tracked Jackson across the offensive line, exploding into the backfield to take out Jackson’s midsection while Thomas wrapped up Jackson from the rear.
Sherman Gets Exposed, And Gets Revenge
With twenty seconds remaining in the first quarter, Richard Sherman made a mistake rarely seen in his short career. He was beaten and then gassed by a wide receiver. As was often the case in the Seahawks’ system, Sherman had an assignment of press coverage. At the snap, receiver Chris Givens was able to establish a step inside on Sherman. Sherman was caught with his right foot inside of his right hip. Off-balance, Sherman was unable to complete a jam and Givens flew right by him. It looked to be a touchdown for Givens before Earl Thomas chased him down. The 52-yard completion had set up the Rams on the Seahawks’ 30-yard line. Yet, the victory was a short-lived one. Only two plays later, Rams’ quarterback Sam Bradford tested Sherman again.
Bradford abandoned his original read to stare down Sherman’s side of the field. Although, this time Sherman had used a bit of a trick. Instead of jamming wide receiver Brandon Gibson (11), he tracked the ball instead. Falling back from the line of scrimmage, Sherman only impeded Gibson, but did not obstruct the route. Since Gibson had been unobstructed, he continued to the end zone, but from Bradford’s perspective, Gibson was covered. Bradford anticipated that, given Sherman’s position, Gibson would stop on the route. Gibson did not. Sherman came off coverage and stepped in front of the pass.
This change-up in strategy had led to the errant throw. Doubtless, to play defense like this as a corner too frequently would be a catastrophic mistake, but Sherman proved that mixing it up now and again was an important aspect to effective pass coverage.
A Difficult Afternoon
After a miraculous victory against the Green Bay Packers, perhaps the Seahawks were due for a let-down. Although, the manner of the loss felt ominous. Not only had the Seahawks lost to the Rams, their sloppy play had been matched by poor luck, leading to an otherwise forgettable matchup. Meanwhile, the usually inept Rams had found a way to put together a winning game plan, got fantastic individual performances out of its players and converted big plays for points.
There was little time to fret about the loss. The Seahawks had another cross-country road game to come, against a Carolina Panthers team who was 1-3 but had two one-score losses. Given how the Seahawks’ offense was performing, it looked to be another low-scoring nail-biter, ending in either a one-score win or loss.