BY Doug Farrar 08:45PM 10/03/2010

Hawks’ flaws exposed against new-look Rams

Outcoached and outmatched, Seahawks get nothing going on the road — again


Seahawks safety Lawyer Milloy hits Rams quarterback Sam Bradford (Rod Mar/Seattle Seahawks)

It seemed like “one of those days” from the start.

From the decidedly lackluster getaway day practice on Friday, to the sight of Leon Washington talking smack to punter Donnie Jones before the game at the Edward Jones Dome (a punter? That’s the best you can do?), this game seemed to have all the marks of a trap. A Seahawks team that has been far weaker on the road took on an improved opponent that it had steadily beaten under those same circumstances, and found no answer for the improvements that opponent has put together.

The 20-3 loss to the Rams confirmed some longstanding fears for Seahawks fans and opened a few new wounds.

Before Pete Carroll put together an all-star staff and actually appeared to have transcended the team-killing goofiness he sometimes exhibited in his prior NFL incarnations, those who were cynical about his January hire as primarily a marketing decision (the Seahawks become the Mariners in Tod Leiweke’s final Seattle move?) would have predicted the questionable in-game decisions and the overall sense that against a supposedly inferior opponent. This Seattle team was outcoached and outmatched — a watch point for the people who feared that the Seahawks’ new coach would be more about soundbites and less about on-field results.

This was not Carroll’s best day, nor was it one to remember for his staff. The head coach was aggressive with his challenges, but he failed to throw the red flag on a first-quarter play in which Rams quarterback Sam Bradford appeared to have the ball knocked out of his hand on a pass before his arm started forward.

Offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates seemed increasingly fond of cute, gimmicky plays at the expense of fundamentals. “We have a lot of work to do” has been Carroll’s mantra after every game, win or lose, but the words seemed to carry more weight when he recited them to the media after this game.

The last two plays of the third Seattle drive were particularly troubling. With 10:01 left in the first half, Seattle had third-and-10 at the St. Louis 46-yard line. Tight end John Carlson motioned from the right side of the line to the backfield, parallel with Matt Hasselbeck’s shotgun set. At the snap, Carlson headed to the left side, which meant that there was no blocker to pick up the overload blitz the Rams set up from the offensive right side.

The pressure forced a hurried throw from Hasselbeck, and new receiver Brandon Stokely had to come back from past the first-down marker to retrieve the ball. Then, on fourth-and-2, Michael Robinson dropped an easy pass. The fault of the player was set up by the fault of the collective, which was engineered by a glaring lack of fundamental awareness. The average high school offense would have recognized that overload blitz and adjusted.

Then, there was the fake field goal with 1:07 left in the first half. The Seahawks lined up at the St. Louis 42-yard line and ran what looked like a call for punter/holder Jon Ryan to run the ball. The only receiver in the area (Carlson) was blocking downfield. That got Seattle a nine-yard loss. For the second consecutive week, curious play-calling inside the two-minute mark left points on the field.

The Seahawk defense was equally confounded by a St. Louis line that is finally starting to provide a return on investment after years of high draft picks and pricey free-agent moves. The Rams had good push for running back Steven Jackson, who gained 70 yards on 22 carries despite injuries that almost had him missing the game. More disconcerting for Seahawks fans was the screen passes the Rams kept running right down the defense’s throat. As they showed against the Redskins on the previous Sunday, this line can get to the second level in a hurry. When I asked Lofa Tatupu about tackles Rodger Saffold and Jason Smith last week, he acknowledged that this was a different sort of animal.

“They’re both good athletes, and Smith’s come a long way from last year when he was a rookie – he looks good,” he said. “And they’re good on the interior. It’s a stout line. They move well in space and they move well together, which is usually the question with a line – how well are they working together? They’re working together really well right now, and they have that beast behind them in Steven Jackson. So, they have some weapons now.”

When Jordan Babineaux told me last week that the Rams could easily be 3-0, he wasn’t engaging in locker-room hyperbole – it was plain that the Seahawks understood that this team was for real. St. Louis’ defense has held its first four opponents of the 2010 season to under 17 points for the first time since 1978, and Bradford looks to be the kind of quarterback the Rams haven’t seen since the salad days of Kurt Warner.

The Rams walked out of their building with a share of the NFC West lead and a bright look to the future. The Seahawks staggered out with a bye week ahead and a litany of issues.

It was supposed to be the other way around.