BY Art Thiel 06:00AM 01/11/2021

Thiel: In the battle of wills, Rams own Seahawks

Despite the mess at quarterback, the Rams knew they were ready to beat the Seahawks because they are used to imposing their will. Even without Aaron Donald.

These days, Rams DT Aaron Donald owns more of Russell Wilson than a jersey. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

The post-mortems that follow the conclusions of pro football seasons necessarily involve discussions about coaching changes, contract extensions, pending free agency and draft needs. Before we get to those discussions — and suddenly there seems more time for personnel stuff now in Seattle than was anticipated — let’s get to one item that lingers from the Seahawks’ awkward collapse Saturday.

Did the Seahawks lose the battle of wills with the Rams?

Based on a measurement that speaks to a favorite Pete Carroll term, grit, the Rams, to take pressure off a highly vulnerable quarterback situation, ran 43 times for 164 yards. So the answer is unequivocally yes. Because the Seahawks defense knew it was coming, and could do little.

On the other side of the ball, the Seahawks offense had its most meager output of the season, 278 yards, and seemed regularly overwhelmed by the Rams’ top-rated defense that had Russell Wilson in near-perpetual agitation.

The subject was brought up post-game Saturday by Rams LT Andrew Whitworth. At 39 the Rams’ oldest player, Whitworth missed the Dec. 27 meeting won by the Seahawks, 20-9, after knee surgery eight weeks earlier. Also missing that game due to injury was the Rams’ youngest player, Cam Akers, 21, the rookie running back who ran for 131 yards in 28 carries.

The tandem returned big Saturday, and were relentless.

“You’ll see in playoff football, all of a sudden one team will show up and it’s like, ‘Man, they seem like a force out there,'” Whitworth said. “You’re going to need plays where you see guys saying, ‘Hey, it doesn’t have to be perfectly blocked, I don’t have to be out in the clear, but I can go fight for tough yards and turn a two- or three- or four-yard game into something that’s eight, 10, 11, 12.’

“It’s going to be about imposing your will on each other. Those will make the difference in a football game. The more you do that to a team, the more it demoralizes them.”

It’s hardly a novel concept. Followers of the Seahawks were spoiled by its deployment during in the Legion of Boom era. The toughness of the NFL’s No. 1 defense was mirrored on offense by RB Marshawn Lynch, who wore out tacklers by turning two-yard losses into three-yard gains.

So, Carlos Dunlap, did it seem to you the Rams imposed their will?

“They ran the ball really good versus one of the best run defenses in the NFL,’’ said Dunlap, who paused the melancholy ritual of locker clean-out long enough to talk to reporters via Zoom. “So there’s no denying that they imposed their will.

“But I feel like there’s a lot of things we could have done better, and we under-performed and under-delivered.”

Under-delivery is always the case after any defeat. But losing a battle of wills is uncommon for the Seahawks, especially in a home game with loser-out stakes for a team that fancied itself Super Bowl-caliber.

After the game, SS Jamal Adams understood that he forced his way off the Jets and onto a team that doesn’t regard a playoff berth with just-happy-to-be-here smiles.

“To me, it’s a failure,” he said. “I mean, that’s our goal. It’s not about individual goals. It’s not about anything else. It’s about getting to the Super Bowl and winning it.

“We did win a division. But at the end of the day, we knew what our mission was, and we fell short. So to me, that is a failed season.”

Sunday, LB K.J. Wright, now a free agent who wants another year with Seattle, understood that personnel moves were made over the past 12 months to get back to the Roman numerals.

“Of all the years since we (last were in), I thought this was the year we would make it,” he said. “It should have been us this year.”

Yet the defense, despite one of the best games in the career of LB Bobby Wagner (16 tackles, sack, TFL, QB hit) couldn’t deter Akers (131 yards on 28 carries) sufficiently to knock loose coach Sean McVay from his conservative game plan: Protect at all costs his surgically repaired QB, Jared Goff, who wasn’t supposed to play.

“We were able to identify the things that you feel good about, play-wise, to activate because for him to be able to even throw the football is pretty impressive,” said McVay, now 6-3 against Carroll. “I’ve been a tick more conservative than you normally would be in years past. I thought we matched their intensity. (We) were ready to go. We have so much respect (for the Seahawks), but we did come up here expecting to get this thing done.”

McVay knew he had the psychological edge. And to prove it, they even inadvertently spotted the Seahawks an injured All-Pro DT Aaron Donald, and still won.

Donald left the game with a bruised sternum after helping force an incompletion on the Seahawks’ second possession of the second half. That initiated a sequence of plays that might have been the worst of the Carroll/Wilson era.

Over the next three possessions absent the big meanie, Wilson was two for seven for 16 yards, and the team had a cumulative net of three yards of offense because of five penalties (four offensive) for 35 yards.

It was as if Wilson and teammates were hearing Donald’s ghost: Boo!

“We needed to get going there,” Wilson said. “The game kind of felt stale for us in a way — we kind of flat-lined. We needed to get going, and make that happen. And the next thing you know, we didn’t.”

Next thing you know, a punt return fumble by D.J. Reed set up the Rams for a short-field touchdown and a 30-13 lead.

Given the spectacular offense that fueled the season’s 5-0 start, it is mind-bending to know that the Donald-free sequence had the identical lineup, save for tight end and left guard. Talk about a loss of will . . .

Carroll knew precisely the magnitude of the loss.

“These years are hard to come by,” he said. “It’s hard to get to 12 wins, and it’s hard to get yourself situated with a playoff game at home. We’ve won a lot of playoff games  (six) at home. It’s tough to give one away.

“As we run through the playoffs and watch everybody else still be playing, it makes you sick to your stomach. Seriously. It feels almost like life ends, in a sense, for this season. It’s very difficult to deal with.”

It was probably the second-worst loss of Carroll’s tenure, next to the Game That Cannot Be Unseen.

But that was one play. Bending to the will of the Rams is a lifestyle.


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  • 1coolguy

    Very good column Art – A lot of good info.
    The Hawks made Akers the second coming of Barry Sanders, which is inexcusable given the sorry state of the Rams QB’s. Wouldn’t you think they would have geared up to stop the run???
    With an average MLB, not Wagner, Akers gets 200+. Meantime Carson only gets 16 carries, ugh.
    The Rams, behind two hobbled / new QB’s, killed time of possession with 33.39.
    Their turnover’s were 2-0.
    Bottom line: The Hawks were outcoached. Period.

  • Kevin Lynch

    Speaking of a tough finish after a 5-0 start…how about an 11-0 start leading to a 28-0 first quarter deficit in the first playoff game…at home, against an underdog. The Steelers situation. Perspective can be hard to come by. The Hawks had a year of achievement. It didn’t end well. They should have lost the Minnesota game but Russell and his receivers bailed them out. Actually, Russ and his receivers have bailed out Seattle in how many games over the last several years? Those guys are the strongest part of the team and the OC should maximize their use. Much more play-action, QB rolls, options, bootlegs, etc.

    • Husky73

      Just proves that the team that does not practice all week has a distinct advantage. Also, the QB who throws four interceptions will lose to the QB who throws zero.

  • coug73

    Pitiful game for the Hawks. No juice. How could the Hawks going into this 3rd game with the Rams and not have a passing game to take advange of the Hawks receiving talent?

    OL continues to haunt the Hawk offense. OL on the cheap will not get the Hawks to the SB.

    I loved watching the Brown’s OL in the first half, they crushed the Steelers.

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  • 2nd place is 1st loser

    With little draft capital for the upcoming draft and Schneider probably going to jump ship. What does the future hold for the Hawks, has it come time to clean house? Lots of questions lay ahead for this franchise.

    • Husky73

      Schneider has said he is staying. He often finds a way to accrue more draft choices. The end of the world is not coming.

      • 2nd place is 1st loser

        It may not be the end of the world as you say, but unless they “adapt”. We’re going to be able to see it in the next year or two. Go Hawks.

  • WestCoastBias79

    It’s kind of ironic that the Rams own the Seahawks because they’re better at the Seahawks formula. Great defense and running game. McVay’s offense is all predicated on running the ball. Peak Goff got good numbers off of screens and misdirection which count as passing, but are essentially extensions of the running game. He has never been a primarily downfield passer. When they can’t run the ball, their offense is broken.

    That said, I don’t put this loss on the defense, the offense didn’t hold up their end of the bargain. Since the Giants game, defenses had been giving the Seahawks underneath, but they haven’t been taking it, because Russ is in love with the home run. He’ll hold onto the ball forever waiting for it to develop, and gets in trouble. Play action doesn’t work when you know the QB isn’t going to take the intermediate throw. Schotty/Russ looked like gods until competition adjusted, and they never countered to that adjustment.

    • Husky73

      It seems that the Rams have been owning the Seahawks since Los Angeles, Anaheim, St. Louis and Carson…and now LA again.

  • Joe_Fan

    The Seahawks were an entertaining bunch this season. Their win-loss record obviously was stellar and they won the division. However I never got the sense that they were “dominant” or were really a threat to go far in the playoffs. The first part of the season the defense was woeful and the team was held together by a fantastic offense. Then, suddenly, the offense began to sour as defenses figured them out and the Seahawks never seemed to adjust. The offense, and Wilson, never seemed to operate at a high level the rest of the season. We were “saved” somewhat by a defense that finally got it’s act together, but for me it still never seemed up to snuff, as they began to play well during a stretch of games against “bad” teams.

    I’m most surprised by Wilson’s performance. As great as he’s been, as well as he prepares, as experienced as he now is, I expect more from him. He’s paid what, $35 million a year? He needs to bring consistent, great performances every week, and that simply does not happen. We have the equivalent of several players tied up in the salary we pay Wilson. Is it worth it?

    Why couldn’t our OC adjust after defenses clearly started playing us to defend against the deep ball? I don’t get it. Can’t we quickly adjust at half time let alone with a week to prepare? At times we just seem lost and that is inexcusable. Our offensive line is still woeful.

    The upcoming draft should be interesting, especially with only 4 picks. We need a dominant running back who can handle the load, and significant help still on the O line with an aging left tackle. Should be fun!

    • 2nd place is 1st loser

      Just out of curiosity, who would or could have survived as QB behind the O-line that you deemed woeful? Woeful is an understatement in my opinion. The earth movers, O-line and D-line have been mismanaged through the draft or free agent signings. It’s a miracle that Wilson isn’t a grease spot on the turf after each game. You’re right about the limited draft picks. If Schneider decides to stay he will certainly earn his money to fill or plug a leaky ship.

    • BB46

      I think C Carson is a top running back. (If we can re sign him) To run the ball we need dominate O linemen. We have a good O line. But against great D lines they are over matched and our division is stacked with those type of D lines. We have to get bigger and more athletic on the O line. Pound it forward over and over again and wear down those speed rushers until we dominate the line of scrimmage. If we give Chris Carson that type of O line he will gain more and get hurt less because instead of getting hit head on they can only grab at when he is running past.
      It won’t be the same team next year as this one. But it never is. The draft will get us more lower round pics that are good football players. Not so much great ones. Unless we get real lucky again. But can’t count on that. Only hope.
      Biggest thing I saw was rams put that much pressure on mostly only rushing 4 and we couldn’t control them. That was the game.

  • 1coolguy

    When Asst coaches are not recruited by other teams, it’s an excellent indication the other 31 teams are passing judgement.
    Witness Quinn and Bradley. I don’t hear anyone approaching Norton or Schott.
    With Allen’s pocketbook, it’s a failure not to continually keep and then hire the best OC and DC possible.
    PC’s Achilles?

  • woofer

    It’s not easy for a sports writer to be brutally frank when assessing the shortcomings of the local heroes, especially when the verdict is a failure of will. A future price could be exacted in terms of access and insider tips. Kudos to Art for having the integrity to be so unsparingly blunt.

  • Mr LC72

    Yes, our offensive line got manhandled, but how do you adjust to that? With 7 step drop backs looking for the big downfield plays? No! You dink doink for short yardage and work the quick underneath passes. Get the ball out quickly. Teams have been doing it to us for years. The coaches have talked about this forever but it seems to go the way of all flesh. Not every team with a top 5 QB has a world class offensive line all season. If they aren’t getting time they find work arounds. The hawks didn’t make any adjustments, nothing. Totally predictable and unimaginative. Incredible actually.

    In as much as Russ has been harassed through his career, NO ONE hangs onto the ball for reads as long as him! Is he even capable of executing that type of scheme at this point or is he so used to scanning deep downfield and hanging onto the ball forever that it isn’t even possible?

    As for Russell Wilson, he isn’t just struggling. It’s like he has the yips! Like the golfer who can’t hold a putter without shaking, or the big league catcher who can’t get the ball back to the pitcher! He just isn’t right! He has happy feet, his confidence seems shot. He is indecisive, and when he has had time he has been overthrowing guys be 20 feet. I can’t recall seeing him this rattled.

    I’m puzzled by Shott? He has called some great games this season but this was the worst scheme and lack of adjustment I have seen.

    • Coop

      Not going to stand up for Schottenheimer here, but the Hawks porous offensive line has been average to awful for 4 years. It’s no wonder Russ starts looking for an out after 2 seconds.

      • jafabian

        Does he? He still holds onto the ball too long waiting for the play to develop then gets sacked. He was the 3rd most sacked QB at 47, only 3 behind Carson Wentz. Yes the O-Line has issues but if that’s the case to compensate Russ should get rid of the ball quicker.

        • Coop

          Not disagreeing with you, but you could see how leg-twitchy he was on Saturday 2 seconds after the snap. And he doesn’t like to move up in the pocket to gain 1 more second. Pain is a hell of a behavior modifier.
          I’m with you on not understanding why so many other NFL teams can complete passing plays in 2.4 seconds and we can’t, but generally I’m looking in Schottenheimer’s direction for that reason, not entirely Russ’s.

    • BB46

      Rams knew their pass rush would do what it did so they played their secondary closer and took away those little dinks and doinks too. Plus our pass catchers missed to many of those dinks and doinks. Running game just couldn’t get 10 yards on 3 plays.
      When your O line manhandled there isn’t many plays you can call that will work. Somewhere the football players need to make some football plays. Both sides of the ball. Against a 2nd string QB and one with a broken thumb we played against giving up a big play and keeping them in front of us instead of making a big play ourselves and attacking them.
      Different ways to look at everything and hindsight is always 20-20. Just can’t have an off day in the play offs and continue. Rams played better and now move on. Huge bummer but still a good year.

  • 3 Lions

    The Rams are better at all the things the Seahawks were once elite at.
    L.A. has a killer defense with a run dominant offense and a diverse passing game.
    The Seahawks offense is painful to watch until the fourth quarter. We aren’t dominant enough to play so conservative.

  • jafabian

    The Hawks might be about as good as they can be on defense. Not without sacrificing somewhere else given their cap space. Considering Duane Brown’s age they need to bring in a game changer on the O-Line. Someone with the kind of presence that DJ Fluker brought to the line his first season as a Hawk. Also looking thru Seahawks history their more successful teams had a Pro Bowl caliber kick returner and FB. You can’t patchwork a team to a title. A Devin Hester type of returner would energize special teams.

    It could be said that the Cardinals also imposed their will over the Hawks this season. To be a contender they have to be able to take care of business within the division. Despite taking the division title this season the Hawks have struggled against their division opponents in recent years.