QB Wilson, Seahawks struggle on playoff stage

by 24USATVJan. 10, 2021, 7 a.m. 26
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SEATTLE -- Russell Wilson's 2020 season began with a record touchdown pace and talk of his first career MVP award. It ended abruptly with a thud and a question: What happened to the quarterback and the high-scoring Seattle Seahawks offense that couldn't be stopped over the first two months?

The struggles for Wilson & Co. culminated Saturday as the Seahawks lost 30-20 in the wild-card round to the Los Angeles Rams at an empty Lumen Field, snapping what had been the third-longest home winning streak in NFL postseason history. The Seahawks hadn't lost a home playoff game since the 2004 season and had won in all six tries under Pete Carroll before Saturday.

"I hate this feeling," Wilson said postgame, still unshowered two hours after the final whistle.

Wilson threw for 174 yards, two touchdowns and an interception that was returned for a Rams score. His 40.7% completion rate on 11-of-27 passing was tied for the second-lowest of his career, while his 17.6 Total QBR was his worst in 16 career playoff games, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

It didn't help that he was sacked or put under duress on half of his dropbacks, even with All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald on the sideline for much of the second half. The Rams' 50% pressure rate was the highest Wilson has faced this season and the second-highest he has faced in the playoffs. He was sacked five times.

"They did a pretty good job up front, obviously. They got me a few times," Wilson said. "I think that, for us, we just didn't play our best game. We weren't on our stuff as much as we needed to be."

Carroll didn't fault Wilson for his pick-six in the second quarter, which came on an attempted screen pass to DK Metcalf that cornerback Darious Williams read perfectly.

"I thought it was really hard," Carroll said of Wilson's afternoon. "They make the fantastic interception for a touchdown, which is a great play by the kid. He took a shot and got it, and that was a big play in this game as it kind of loomed the whole time, that seven points. That's no mistake on Russ' part at all. That's just a great play by them. But it was hard. When you get rushed like that, get sacked five times, against that group, it's just tough."

Wilson was also sacked five times when the Seahawks beat the Rams 20-9 in Week 16 to win the NFC West.

"This is no surprise," Carroll said. "This is how they've played against other people. We needed to keep this game like we played them last time, where we kept it down, where they scored nine points and we found a way to score 20."

Wilson threw an NFL-record-tying 16 touchdown passes through the first four games of the season while establishing himself as the early-season front-runner for MVP. Over the first nine weeks, the Seahawks' offense led the league in scoring with 34 points per game while Wilson led the league with 28 touchdown passes. But over the final eight weeks of the regular season, Seattle's points-per-game average dropped to 22.6 (which was 16th) while Wilson threw 12 TD passes (tied for 13th).

His yards-per-attempt average went from 8.56 yards (fourth) to 6.4 (28th). He also averaged 6.4 yards per attempt Saturday.

Carroll regretted that the Seahawks didn't adjust better to the way opponents were defending their deep passing in the play-action game, traditionally a big part of Seattle's offensive success.

"That doesn't mean we throw the ball over their head all of the time and going for just bombs," Carroll said. "But there's a lot of space we create in the play-passing game, and it seemed like during the course of the season, after the halfway point, we had hit so much early, we had been so effective that people found a way to stay back and just try to bleed us and make us have to throw the ball underneath, and we were maybe really going for it more than we needed to and didn't take advantage of switching gears a bit there as effectively as we would like."

Wilson's 40 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions in the regular season were both career highs.

The veteran pointed to injuries along the offensive line as one reason for the Seahawks' struggles following their hot start. They had their preferred starting five of Duane Brown, Mike Iupati, Ethan Pocic, Damien Lewis and Brandon Shell for their first four games but only one other time over the second half.

However, that starting five was together again Saturday, and it was no match for the Rams' defensive front -- with or without Donald. The Rams generated six pressures and two sacks after Donald left with just over 10 minutes left in the third quarter.

Seven of the Seahawks' nine accepted penalties were against the offense, with five on their offensive line. One came on a false start in the fourth quarter when Seattle broke the huddle late -- despite having extra time as Lewis was getting examined for an injury on the field -- and was rushing to get a fourth-and-1 play off in time. The Seahawks then punted.

Carroll said they were discussing plays and that he got in the middle of it, contributing to the delay. He said he didn't mind punting after the penalty because that was initially a consideration.

Wilson threw both of his touchdown passes to Metcalf against a standard four-man pass-rush but was only 8-of-18 for 130 yards on those plays. His 44.4% completion rate against standard pressure was his lowest in a game since Week 15 of the 2017 season against the Rams (44.0%), per ESPN Stats & Information research.

The Seahawks finished only 2-of-14 on third down, starting 0-for-8 before their first conversion with less than four minutes left in the third quarter. They ran for 136 yards on 25 attempts.

"I wish we would have found the way to run the ball more, to slow them down and keep them from rushing us," Carroll said. "... When Donald went out, we wanted to try to throw the ball without him in the pass rush, and we weren't able to get enough out of it."

The Seahawks won 12 regular-season games for the first time since 2014 and won the NFC West for the first time since 2016.

"We have a great football team. Don't get me wrong," Wilson said. "You guys can write whatever you want, but the reality is we have a great football team, and I think we have guys, but we didn't play great today. That's what matters most."

This marked the second time in three seasons the Seahawks were bounced in the wild-card round and the fifth time in their past five trips to the playoffs that they came up short of the NFC title game.

"We'll heal, but it's unfortunate because these years are hard to come by," Carroll said. "It's hard to get to 12 wins. It's hard to get yourself situated with a playoff game at home. We've won a lot of playoff games at home, and it is tough to give one away. We have won every one of those playoff games with a raucous, wild, crazy fan base, and not today, we needed you. I wish we could have had you. That's not an excuse, that's just unfortunate."

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