The Seahawks' wild-card defeat to the Cowboys may forever be remembered as the R-R-P game — or R-R-P-P (run, run, pass, punt). Did they truly never adjust? Bob Condotta dives into some of the numbers behind the loss.
The Seahawks’ 24-22 wild-card playoff defeat against the Dallas Cowboys on Saturday seems destined to go down in popular lore as the RRP game — or run-run-pass (or RRPP, for run-run-pass-punt).
In the immediate aftermath of the game, social media flared with rage over Seattle’s offensive play-calling, especially the team’s seeming insistence on sticking with the run even when it wasn’t working.
Does a review of the game show that RRP was really all Seattle did and that the Seahawks never adjusted?
We’ll explore that and more in what turns out to be our final Final Word review of a Seahawks game this season.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
WHAT I SAID: Russell Wilson and the Seattle receiving corps against the Dallas secondary.
WHAT HAPPENED: Well, this certainly was a matchup worth watching, if maybe not one Seattle fans got to watch enough.
Dallas held Seattle to just 2.9 yards per carry in the regular-season matchup, the second-lowest total of the season for the Seahawks, so you could maybe see it coming that the running game would be a struggle and Seattle would have to throw to win Saturday.
Seattle indeed had trouble again running it with just 73 yards on 24 carries, 28 yards coming on one Rashaad Penny run in the third quarter.
But Seattle kept running it, with an 11-to-10 pass-to-run ratio in the first half and then a 13-to-5 run-to-pass ratio in the third quarter.
That Seattle kept running it in the third quarter has seemed to elicit the most debate. One thing that surely factored in is coach Pete Carroll’s oft-stated reluctance that Seattle got away from the running game when the offense struggled in the first two games of the season against Denver and Chicago. Carroll said many times later that the Seahawks learned in those games they needed to stay committed to it, a renewed commitment he credited greatly to Seattle leading the NFL in rushing this season at 160 yards a game.
Another is that it actually sort of worked in the third quarter — Seattle ran it on eight of nine plays on a 44-yard touchdown drive to take a 14-10 lead into the fourth quarter (though the key play of the drive was a fourth-down pass of 22 yards to Doug Baldwin).
Still, Seattle had 52 yards rushing on 13 carries in the third quarter and Carroll probably thought it was finally beginning to work.
After falling behind 17-14, Seattle ran it only one more time — on the first play of the next drive, a loss for 1 yard by Chris Carson on a drive that ended in a three-and-out. Seattle got the ball back again trailing 17-14 and threw it on all three official plays. But that was the drive in which two penalties on the offensive line – a holding and a personal foul — moved Seattle back and resulted in another punt. The next time Seattle got the ball it was 24-14 and there wasn’t enough time left to pull the game out.
As for the run-run-pass routine, Seattle did indeed go run-run-pass six times. Five of those resulted in third downs of 6 yards or longer, none of which the Seahawks converted (the other was the third-and-two on the first series when the Seahawks threw it incomplete on third down — yep, this was an odd game).
In fact, Seattle was just 2 for 13 on third downs, and one of the conversions was a third-and-one on the final play of the first half when the Cowboys were conceding a few yards to Mike Davis on a play that set up Sebastian Janikowski’s ill-fated 57-yard field goal.
Seattle, though, might have passed it more on first down than was realized. Seattle had eight first-down plays in the first half and ran on four and passed on four others. Seattle had 12 more first-down plays in the second half and ran on seven and passed on five. Three of the runs on first down in the second half came on the drive on which Seattle scored to take the lead.
WHAT I COULD HAVE SAID: Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott against the Seattle defense. Seattle gave up 127 yards to Elliott on 16 carries in September, the most the Seahawks allowed to any single rusher this season.
Elliott exceeded that total Saturday with 137 yards on 26 carries.
He had 44 on what was as key of a play as any, his run on a third-and-one with 1:11 left in the second quarter when Dallas seemed to be trying just to get a field-goal attempt to try to tie it and instead ended up driving for a touchdown to take a 10-6 halftime lead.
PLAYER TO WATCH
WHAT I SAID: Weakside linebacker K.J. Wright
WHAT HAPPENED: Wright did a lot of everything with nine tackles (second-most on the team behind Bradley McDougald’s 10), one of just two of Seattle’s tackles-for-a-loss and an interception in the end zone for the only turnover of the game.
It was a performance that clearly showed his value when healthy and made a strong case for compelling the team to re-sign him — he’s now an unrestricted free agent.
But Wright also seemed resigned afterward to the idea he might as well hit the market, his future uncertain because the Seahawks might be waiting to see what his market will be as he enters his age-30 season coming off a year in which he played just five games due to a knee injury.
WHAT I COULD HAVE SAID: Wide receiver Tyler Lockett.
Lockett capped a season in which he proved he’s worth every bit of the three-year, $31.8 million extension he signed last summer with 120 yards on four receptions. That included a 53-yarder that set up the final touchdown during the futile comeback effort as well as a 40-yarder that led to Seattle’s first points, a field goal, in the second quarter.
Lockett’s effectiveness also helped fuel the idea that Seattle should have been more aggressive throwing the ball, an argument that will likely color the memory of this game forever.
WHAT I SAID: Seahawks cornerbacks Shaquill Griffin/Tre Flowers.
WHAT HAPPENED: Flowers appeared to hold up well again to cap a rookie season that stamped him as a future foundational piece of the Seahawks.
Griffin, who in his defense practiced sparingly last week due to an ankle injury suffered in the victory over Arizona the previous Sunday, had some struggles. If the ankle was a factor, then some of the plays on which he was beaten in coverage are more understandable.
But unforgivable was Griffin and fellow cornerback Akeem King losing containment on the Elliott run that set up a Dallas touchdown near the end of the first half.
That’s the kind of thing Richard Sherman — the player Griffin was called on to replace this season — rarely, if ever, did.
WHAT I COULD HAVE SAID: Special teams.
Seattle’s special-teams units had an interesting past month.
The Janikowski injury could have thrown a huge monkey wrench into things. Would Seattle have tried a field goal with Michael Dickson if it had to, if it had gotten the ball on an onsides kick after the final touchdown, which cut the lead to 24-22?
Tavon Austin’s 51-yard punt return for Dallas threatened to be a back breaker until Wright’s interception.
And Dickson’s fabulous rookie season ended with a thud, the onside drop kick that sadly wasn’t close to giving Seattle an opportunity for a recovery.
WILD-CARD PLAYER WHO COULD SURPRISE
WHAT I SAID: Defensive end Dion Jordan.
WHAT HAPPENED: Jordan played a lot, on the field for 35 of a possible 75 snaps, 47 percent. But he didn’t get involved much, with just one assisted tackle and no quarterback hits — the only Seahawks with quarterback hits were Frank Clark and Jarran Reed. Seattle had high hopes for Jordan entering this season after he showed some flashes in limited action in 2017.
But in part due to nagging injuries that caused him to miss four games, he never really got rolling with just 1.5 sacks this season — he had four in just five games in 2017 — and just six quarterback hits and 22 tackles (he had 18 tackles last season).
WHAT I COULD HAVE SAID: Running back Rashaad Penny.
Penny played just five snaps, all in the second half after Carson struggled in the first half. Seattle at least made use of those snaps as Penny had 29 yards on four carries, which ended up leading the Seahawks. But 28 yards came on one play. Penny, in fact, got the ball on three consecutive plays on Seattle’s second drive of the third quarter, an odd trio of gains of 5 and 28 and then a pitch out for a loss of 7 that helped derail what had been a promising drive.
Penny, Seattle’s first-round choice, played 181 snaps during the regular season of a possible 1,069 and then five of a possible 55 in the playoffs.
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WHAT I SAID: 76-24 (Dallas’ first-quarter scoring in 2018).
WHAT HAPPENED: The first quarter was the only quarter this season in which the Cowboys outscored their opponents, while Seattle has had noted struggles starting on the road in the playoffs in the Carroll era.
Seattle again started slow, with just 5 yards in the first quarter — which, according to ESPN, was the fewest for any team in a playoff game since the Seahawks had 3 in the NFC Championship Game against the Packers in 2015 (the memorable comeback for a 28-22 overtime victory).
Seattle trailed just 3-0 at the end of the first quarter despite being outgained 88-5, which seemed a victory at the time. But the quarter also showed that a Dallas team that had been hit all week with questions about its recent lack of playoff success wasn’t going to go away easily.
WHAT I COULD HAVE SAID: 3.0, 8.1.
Those are Seattle’s averages per play rushing and passing. Take out Penny’s 28-yard run and Seattle had just 45 yards on 21 carries, or barely more than 2 yards per attempt. The yards per pass was buoyed greatly by the two plays by Lockett that combined for 93 yards — Wilson had 140 yards on his other 25 attempts and 15 completions. But that was also sort of the point — one more big pass play might have made all the difference.
THE FINAL WORD
WHAT I SAID: Dallas 20, Seattle 17.
WHAT HAPPENED: Well, for better or worse, I was almost right on the money on that one. One thing I noted on the final score was that Seattle had 3-0 turnover edges on Dallas in each of its past two victories against the Cowboys, which had helped to cover up that the Seahawks had struggles moving it consistently in each game, especially on the ground. Seattle had a 1-0 turnover edge Saturday — the ninth time in 17 games this season the Seahawks did not have a turnover (Seattle had just two in the last seven games). Seattle needed to force one more somewhere along the way and it might have been good enough.