It's usually a tough battle for the Seahawks when they play at St. Louis, and Sunday's season opener was no exception. Despite some big plays and big contributions from a few newcomers, the Seahawks lost at St. Louis for the fourth time in the past six seasons, falling 34-31 in overtime.
The Seahawks scored touchdowns on special teams and on defense, they won the turnover battle 3-1, and yet they still couldn't quite top the Rams thanks to a series of miscues in all three phases of the game.
"In pretty typical fashion, it was hard to get started here," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "We struggled early in this game and were fortunate to be tied at halftime. Then the game kind of began for us. It was a fantastic game by the Rams, they made all kinds of cool plays to give them a chance and they came through when they had to. We had our shots in this game. All three phases, and the coaches, we need to do better. I'm disappointed that across the board we weren't sharper than that looked out there. There were times, we had our moments at all, but not enough. And when we had a chance to finish the game, we didn't finish it."
That lack of sharpness leads our five takeaways from a season-opening loss at the Edward Jones Dome.
1. The execution was just a bit off across the board.
When overtime began, it looked like the Seahawks had tried to catch the Rams off guard with a bold onside kick and had failed to do so. The Rams recovered Steven Hauschka's short kick, turned that short field into 3 points, then stopped the Seahawks to hold on for the victory. Only it turns out that wasn't an attempted onside kick. Instead Hauschka was trying to bloop a kick over St. Louis' first line of blockers, hoping to land it in no-man's land where the Seahawks might be able to recover, or at the very least to where the Rams would get no return and start with the ball around their own 35-yard line.
"We didn't execute that," Carroll said. "That's not what was supposed to happen, we just didn't execute properly on the kick… We were kicking the ball in a certain area of the field, we didn't hit it right. We just mishit it, we didn't execute the kick right. That's all."
It would be completely unfair to say that kick or any other single play decided the game, but that play was just one illustration of miscues throughout the game that the Seahawks were unable to overcome. The Seahawks did a lot well, from forcing turnovers to Tyler Lockett returning a punt for a touchdown to the offense getting on track in the second half to put together a couple of big scoring drives, but they also gave up a 75-yard punt return, allowed six sacks, had a few coverage breakdowns that Rams quarterback Nick Foles was able to exploit, and were unable to pick up 1 yard on fourth-and-1 with the game on the line.
"Just in general, we didn't play sharp enough to get a win today, and they did," Carroll said. "Normally when we get three turnovers and they get one, we win… Tough day for us, but we gotta regroup and get going and we'll do all of that."
2. It was a big day for three newcomers.
The Seahawks scored three touchdowns Sunday, and all three came from players who are new to the team in 2015. The Seahawks liked the nucleus of players they returned from 2014, but every team is looking to add talent each off season, and through the draft, a trade and free agency, the Seahawks acquired players who made a big difference in Sunday's game.
Rookie Tyler Lockett, whom the Seahawks traded up to pick in the third round of this year's draft, picked up where he left off in the preseason, returning his first career punt return 57 yards to give the Seahawks an early lead. Jimmy Graham, who came to Seattle in a trade with the New Orleans Saints, followed that with a 7-yard touchdown catch early in the fourth quarter, then free-agent signing Cary Williams added a sack, forced fumble and touchdown return on one spectacular play that Carroll described as "a gorgeous play by Cary."
3. Jimmy Graham will be a difference maker.
Through one half, Graham was targeted only once and had just a 7-yard catch to show for it. It was hardly the opening act most were expecting from an All-Pro tight end for whom the Seahawks parted ways with Max Unger and a first-round pick, but Graham would eventually make his presence known. Facing second-and-20 late in the third quarter, Russel Wilson hit Graham over the middle for a 19-yard gain and a manageable third-down distance. Three plays later Graham snagged a dart from Wilson to pick up a first down, then to cap the drive he hauled in a 7-yard touchdown pass.
Graham, who finished with six catches for 51 yards, may not be targeted as frequently as he was in New Orleans, but he will still be a big part of Seattle's offense, which was on display in the second half.
"We got knocked around a little bit on the pass rush and we didn't get the chances (to get Jimmy the ball in the first half)," Carroll said. "We had him in the game-plan throughout. He did an excellent job I thought when he got his chances, made a great catch on the touchdown passes, made some really good come-through plays for us… He looked terrific and came through for us in a big way. He did an excellent job, and that touchdown was an exquisite catch. It was a great play."
Carroll noted that he liked what all the pass-catchers did on Sunday, with Jermaine Kearse finishing with a team-high eight catches for 76 yards and Doug Baldwin adding seven for 35.
"I thought the receivers did an excellent job of catching the ball and making things happen," Carroll said. "Doug did a real cool job and Jermaine came through and made his plays too and gave us a chance."
4. Richard Sherman, nickel corner?
In an unexpected twist, the Seahawks frequently used All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman to cover receivers in the slot while in their nickel defense. Up until this week, Will Blackmon, who was released in the final round of cuts, Marcus Burley and Tye Smith had been the three corners to play at that spot with Sherman sticking to his usual position of left cornerback. But on Sunday the usual nickel look was to put DeShawn Shead at left corner and have Sherman work inside.
"I just do what I'm asked to do," Sherman said. "If they ask me to go in there, I go in there. Whatever my team asks me to do, that's what I'll do. It was fun. Things happen quick, I got my hands on some guys. It was a good time."
Sherman said he didn't know if this was a possible long-term look or just something the Seahawks were doing against the Rams: "You'd have to ask Pete and them, I just do my job."
For Shead, this role was yet another chance to show his versatility. In addition to being a key special teams contributor, Shead has been a valuable member of the secondary because of his ability to play both safety and cornerback. He played safety for most of training camp and the preseason, but did play corner against Kansas City, which helped him adjust to a move back to that spot this week.
"To get out there and get live reps (in Kansas City) definitely prepared me to get out and play some corner in this game after playing safety all week," Shead said. "… All positions are a possibility, so I try to prepare and be ready for any situation such as this."
While Shead and Sherman both looked comfortable in their spots, the passing defense as a whole struggled to stop Foles. There were a few coverage breakdowns—which can be on linebackers and defensive backs—and overall the Rams had eight completions of 20 or more yards, as well as well as a 17-yard reception to convert third-and-15, one of two third-and-15 conversions in the game for St. Louis.
"Just mental errors," Sherman said. "They had some great designed plays, a little bit of confusions on some of them… On a couple of play we miscommunicated. Guys thought they had somebody, thought they were playing a certain way and they weren't, but things like that happen. It's early on, it's the first game."
5. Earl Thomas didn't look like his shoulder was an issue, and a few other silver linings.
Free safety Earl Thomas hadn't played in a game since the Super Bowl prior to Sunday, which meant he hadn't done any live tackling in seven months, but if his surgically-repaired shoulder was bothering him any, it certainly didn't show. Thomas finished with a team-high 9 tackles, including one big blow that forced an Isaiah Pead fumble.
And finally, if you're looking for a silver-lining in a season-opening loss, consider that Carroll said there were no injuries that he knew of after the game. Obviously players will have their bumps and bruises, but having no significant injuries to report after a game is always good news.
Also encouraging, though somewhat easy to overlook considering the final result, is the resilience showed in the second half to get back into the game. After Tavon Austin's punt return gave the Rams an 11-point lead late in the third quarter, the Seahawks had gone from leading 13-10 to a double-digit deficit in less than five minutes of game action. And with the offense struggling to get on track up to that point, that deficit felt significant. But after the teams traded three-and-outs, the Seahawks drove 63 yards for their first offensive touchdown of the game, a 7-yard pass from Russell Wilson to Graham. The Seahawks then tied the game on a field goal that was set up by a Thomas forced fumble and Bruce Irvin recovery, then took the lead moments later with Williams' sack, forced fumble and touchdown. Ultimately that wasn't quite enough for a win, but it was still something the team can build on going forward.
"The goal is to go 1-0 every week, we came up a little bit short, but I loved the way we fought back in the second half," Wilson said. "… It's one of those things where you keep battling, keep facing the challenges, but we just came up a little short. "
The Seahawks opened up the 2015 regular season on the road at the St. Louis Rams, falling in overtime 34-31.