Grading the Game: Defense helps Seahawks finish game, season strong
The offense ultimately gets the job done, but not with anything special.
Seattle Times staff reporter
The game that clinched the NFC West title for the Seahawks illustrated perfectly coach Pete Carroll’s long-held philosophy that it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.
“Finishing is a big deal to us,’’ he said after the 20-6 victory Sunday over the St. Louis Rams. “It’s not just finishing the game today, which was fantastic, to win 20-0 in the second half, that was fitting. But to finish the season and be really strong here in December again, that’s something we take great pride in.’’
A strong finish put a much brighter tone on our weekly grades.
If it’s the St. Louis Rams, then it’s another day of Russell Wilson running for his life. Wilson was hit hard early and struggled to find a rhythm in a first half when he threw just his second interception since Nov. 9. But like the team, Wilson rallied in the second half to complete 9 of 12 passes for 122 yards and finish 17 for 25 for 239 yards. He was sacked three times, and now has been sacked 25 times in six games against the Rams. Grade:B
The Rams also didn’t make it easy to run, and did an especially good job containing Wilson. That forced the Seahawks to depend on Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin for the bulk of the running game. Each was able to break free just often enough — Lynch 14 carries for 60 yards and Turbin 11 for 53 — for the Seahawks to get 132 rushing yards, meaning Seattle broke the 100-yard barrier in 15 of 16 games this season and finished with an average of 172.6 per game, a team record and No. 1 in the NFL. Grade:B+
With Jermaine Kearse out with a hamstring injury, Seattle needed some big plays from rookies Paul Richardson and Kevin Norwood, the latter of whom got just his second career start. Each came through, with Richardson having his most meaningful game as a Seahawk with a team-high five catches for 60 yards. Norwood had a key 31-yarder on third down to set up Seattle’s go-ahead touchdown. Doug Baldwin chipped in three catches for 43 yards. Grade:B
After a breakthrough game last week, Luke Willson was quieter and unable to hang on to a hot pass from Wilson on a third down in the third quarter. But he caught a 28-yarder late in the second half that momentarily had the Seahawks moving.
The Rams always present a tough matchup for the Seahawks up front, and this game was no exception. St. Louis finished with three sacks and seven quarterback hits, led by defensive tackle Aaron Donald and end Robert Quinn. But the final numbers show Seattle near its averages in most offensive categories. And the line had just one penalty, on a day when the Seahawks had only two total. Grade:B-
The Seahawks never let the Rams get the running game going — just 42 yards on 19 carries — and finished with four sacks. Having the best day of his young career was tackle Jordan Hill with an interception and half a sack. Michael Bennett again was a disruptive force. Kevin Williams played another solid game at nose tackle, including a sack. And reserve end O’Brien Schofield made an impact for the second consecutive week with a sack and two quarterback hits. Grade:A
As good as Bobby Wagner was — 10 tackles, two for a loss — Bruce Irvin might have been better with the 49-yard interception return for a touchdown, a sack and a forced fumble. K.J. Wright also was stellar until leaving with a finger injury in the fourth quarter. Malcolm Smith stepped in.Grade:A-
Earl Thomas had one of his best days of the season with a team-high 12 tackles, 11 solo, capped by the forced fumble for a touchback in the fourth quarter. Kam Chancellor wasn’t far behind and the rest of the Legion of Boom chipped in as Shaun Hill had just a 65.5 passer rating for St. Louis. Seattle has allowed just two passing touchdowns in the past seven games after 15 in the first nine. Grade:A-
Faulty special teams were the story of Seattle’s defeat at St. Louis in October. Seattle was so worried the Rams might try some tricks again that it began the game by leaving its defense on the field for punts. That conservative approach is one reason you didn’t see much out of Seattle’s punt returns — Bryan Walters had fair-catches on the first two attempts with the defense on the field. Ultimately, the special teams were much less of a factor than in the first game. Steven Hauschka rebounded from missing three field goals last week to hit both attempts. Grade:B