It's not time to panic, but urgency needed to fix the problems
ST. LOUIS — Sidney Rice normally talks like he runs. He’s a quiet and graceful type, a gazelle with laryngitis. You figure nothing can disrupt his suave.
It takes epic absurdity to frustrate the wide receiver. After a month of ineffectual offense, the Seahawks have crossed that line. And in the locker room after a 19-13 loss to St. Louis, Rice was so mystified he almost missed a button on his cardigan sweater.
He went from stately to cranky.
“It’s getting kind of depressing,” he said of the offense’s struggles. “It sucks.”
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This time, there was no game-winning inter-touchdown to save the Seahawks. They had to accept the ugly truths from one of the most befuddling losses of the Pete Carroll era. The Seahawks rushed for 179 yards. Their defense didn’t allow a touchdown. Their rookie quarterback completed 68 percent of his passes. And they still lost.
The Seahawks stumbled over a winnable game. They committed foolish and ill-timed penalties that exhibit a lack of discipline. Russell Wilson threw three interceptions and failed again to convert on third down. They watched the Rams score 13 points on a 60-yard field goal, a 58-yard field goal and a touchdown resulting from a fake field goal. Though the defense played well enough to win, the Seahawks allowed the Rams to convert five third-down plays of at least 10 yards.
But for all the self-inflicted wounds in this game — including allowing a field goal at the end of the second quarter partly because of clock mismanagement and setting up Greg Zuerlein’s 60-yard boot with a stupid onside kick to start the third quarter — the offense remains Seattle’s greatest source of disappointment.
The Seahawks now have a month’s worth of evidence that they’re failing in the passing game and creating an imbalance that could jeopardize the playoff hopes of a team with a postseason-pliant defense.
This is a significant sample size to evaluate, 25 percent of the season, and the numbers are brutal. The Seahawks had a brilliant 80-yard touchdown drive to open the game Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome, but then their problems emerged again. It’s a distressing pattern.
The Seahawks have converted only 28 percent of their third-down plays this season. They were 2 of 9 against the Rams.
Wilson, the rookie quarterback, is directing the worst passing offense in the NFL. He completed 17 of 25 passes for a season-high 160 yards, but he threw three interceptions — one on a catchable pass thrown behind Doug Baldwin, one on a play in which Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins hit him as he threw, and the final one, which ended the Seahawks’ comeback attempt, came after tight end Anthony McCoy slipped and fell.
It’s sobering when you realize that, despite playing stellar defense, the Seahawks would be 1-3 if not for a controversial miracle play. Nothing explains the dichotomy of ineptitude and excellence on this team than one telling stat: The Seahawks have more than twice as many rushing yards as their opponents (603-251), and they still have a middling record.
That’s what happens when you’re better at convincing replacement referees of simultaneous possession than executing in the red zone. The Seahawks have been inside the opponents’ 20-yard line 11 times this season and come away with three touchdowns and six field goals. The two other times, they turned the ball over on downs.
“When we get in the red zone, it should be seven points,” said Rice, who leads the Seahawks with 12 receptions for 132 yards. “I’m tired of three points. It’s weak.”
The Seahawks suffer from three primary ailments: unimaginative play-calling, an offensive line that struggles with pass protection and a quarterback who simply hasn’t been productive enough. It’s unfair to blame Wilson for all of the woes, but it’s impossible to ignore how overmatched he looks at times. For the season, he’s completing 60 percent of his passes, which is solid efficiency, but the passing game hasn’t advanced past elementary.
After a month of only marginal improvement, Carroll must scrutinize the quarterback’s play and answer a tough question: Can the Seahawks stomach this much learning and still meet their team goals? Or is it time to give Matt Flynn, the eight-figure free-agent pickup standing on the sideline, a chance to do better?
“We’ve got to capitalize when we have opportunities,” Wilson said. “We’re so close. We’ve got to figure out how to get the ball in the red zone.”
The Seahawks have neither the experience nor the weapons to be a dynamic passing offense. But they’re not utilizing what they have. Their starting receivers, Rice and Golden Tate, are capable of more production. So is tight end Zach Miller. To be a functional offense, the Seahawks need them. And with Marshawn Lynch and the run game demanding so much attention, the opportunities should be there.
Panic isn’t necessary at this point. But urgency is. The Seahawks can’t win in spite of a passing game this ineffective. They’ll remain a .500 team until they find some balance.
“Right now, it’s not looking too good,” Rice said. “We’re way better than we’re showing on the field.”
Not even the team’s most mild-mannered offensive player can ignore the issues. A quarter into the season, the Seahawks are desperate for introspection, if not drastic change.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or email@example.com. On Twitter @JerryBrewer.