SEATTLE -- After winning four of their last five games, the Seahawks faltered in their return to CenturyLink Field on Sunday.
The offense sputtered with Chris Carson only able to play a limited number of snaps due to a hip injury and Russell Wilson threw a pick-six, took some poor sacks and misfired on a couple key throws as well as the Los Angeles Chargers left Seattle with a 25-17 victory.
The Chargers got a jump early with Philip Rivers, Melvin Gordon and Keenan Allen finding ways to slice through the Seattle defense. If not for two missed extra points and a missed field goal by Caleb Sturgis, the loss could have been far more convincing the final score ultimately showed.
The game truly came to an end when Wilson's pass to David Moore with no time remaining on the clock was deflected by safety Jahleel Addae and hit the turf to preserve the eight-point victory for the Chargers. Seattle would have still needed a successful two-point conversion to force overtime.
"We kind of got in our own way, I felt, a lot more than that," head coach Pete Carroll said. "But give them credit. They did a good job."
Here are the takeaways from the Seahawks loss to the Chargers:
1. Chris Carson's absence was felt significantly.
The resurgence of Seattle's rushing attack has been the biggest reason for the improved offensive play over the previous month. However, Carson's departure in the second quarter was a bucket of a water on Seattle's roaring start to Sunday's game.
The Seahawks marched 75 yards on 13 plays and made six first downs on the opening possession before a 10-yard touchdown pass from Wilson to Jaron Brown gave Seattle a 7-0 lead. Carson was a big part of that early success, rushing for 32 yards on five carries on the opening drive.
Carson would only manage three more carries for eight yards before exiting the game and being seen on the sidelines with an ice wrap around his left thigh prior to halftime.
"I had an injury so I wanted to see if I can go out there and still play. I did what I can but they thought the best decision was to sit me out the rest of the game and it was the right one," Carson said.
Carson had been limited in practice on Thursday and Friday and was a game-time decision due to a hip injury. It was the same issue that flared up during the game that forced him to the bench.
Carson averaged 5.0 yards per carry on his eight touches before leaving the game. Mike Davis and Rashaad Penny combined for 73 yards on 19 carries for an average of 3.8 yards per carry. The lack of early down rushing success forced longer second- and third-down situations and Seattle struggled to keep drives alive. The Seahawks had three third-down conversions on the opening drive as they faced three third-and-1's on the possession. They would only convert one more third down the rest of the game in the third quarter on a 14-yard completion to Doug Baldwin on third-and-6.
"Chris has been pretty hot lately and he's been doing a lot of really good things for us and we certainly missed him," Carroll said.
While the improved play of the offensive line has certainly been a factor as well, it appears as though Carson is clearly able to get the most out of Seattle's rushing attack. His inability to play for more than half of the game was a significant loss.
2. Russell Wilson struggled without the recent run game support.
With more onus on Wilson's shoulders due to the dip in running game production, some of the old issues seeped back into Wilson's play against the Chargers.
Wilson was sacked four times as he held onto the ball too long at times. The Chargers did a very good job of rushing Wilson in such a way that he was kept in the pocket which, due to his height, limited his ability to see adequately downfield.
Jahleel Addae's beat Mike Davis for a sack early in the game and Damion Squire beat backup right guard Joey Hunt for a sack in the fourth quarter. However, Melvin Ingram and Isaac Rochell's sacks both came with plenty of time for Wilson to get rid of the football.
Additionally, Wilson missed on throws to Tyler Lockett on a third down and underthrew Brown on a possible touchdown as he climbed the pocket.
The pick-six by Desmond King was a backbreaker as well as Seattle suddenly needed two scores to rally instead of just one. Wilson appeared to believe that the Chargers were in a man-to-man coverage when they were playing zone and didn't anticipate King sinking underneath his throw to Moore.
"I made a bad read," Wilson said. "He bolted underneath of it and made a good play. It won't happen again."
Wilson completed 26 of 39 passes for 235 yards and two touchdowns with the interception by King. However, the Seahawks are now 0-3 this season when Wilson throws more than 30 passes in a game. They've lost their last five games dating back to last season when Wilson's thrown 30 or more passes.
That doesn't mean that the Seahawks can't win games when Wilson throws 30 passes or that they haven't lost any games when he throws fewer than 30 passes. However, the last five games Seattle has had to ask Wilson to up his number of attempts, it's resulted in games that did not go Seattle's way.
3. Early defensive errors were exploited by high-powered Chargers attack.
Philip Rivers has been around a long time for a reason. He's a hell of a quarterback.
Rivers took advantage of open zones in Seattle's defense to throw for 164 yards and a touchdown in the first half. An apparent blown coverage by Shaquill Griffin allowed Keenan Allen to get behind the defense for a 54-yard gain with Melvin Gordon scoring on a 34-yard touchdown run on the very next play that gave the Chargers a 12-7 lead.
Gordon also was incredibly effective, gashing the Seahawks defense for 113 yards on 16 carries. Allen and Austin Ekeler also added 28 yards and 16 yards, respectively on a pair of jet sweeps as the Chargers rushed for 160 yards in total against Seattle. Los Angeles averaged 7.3 yards per carry on the day.
"I feel like we have a great defense and at the end of the day, great defense don't give up explosive plays, or at least that many," defensive end Frank Clark said.
When it comes to slowing down Gordon, the Seahawks may have regretting making Poona Ford inactive for the game.
Ford was one of Seattle's seven inactive players declared prior to the game. The undrafted rookie from Texas has been impressive as a run defender in recent weeks, but the return of Rasheem Green to the lineup led Seattle to choose Ford as one of their inactive players.
Ford playing may or may not have had a substantial impact but it was one less option that they could turn to against the Chargers.
The defense didn't allow any points in the second half and got some key stops when they needed them to give the offense a chance, it just ultimately wasn't enough.
"It took us too long to really start playing off of one another like we like to and it just wasn't as clear as we need it to be," Carroll said.
4. It's been said before, but Michael Dickson is amazing at punting footballs.
With Seattle's offense sputtering throughout the day, Dickson was critical in flipping field position to pin the Chargers back on their own side of the field.
Dickson averaged 52.9 yards per punt with a 50.0 next average on his six punts against the Chargers. Four of those six punts landed inside the 20-yard line with zero touchdowns. Desmond King managed just 17 yards of punt return yardage, which all came on one of his four return chances.
"Mike did a great job today. He really did," Carroll said. "The field position was huge for us, particularly in the second half. We were able to take advantage of it. We got off the field well with the defense. He's a real weapon and he showed it again."
Dickson is superb at creating hang time, maximizing distance and pinning the ball to the sideline to allow his coverage units to zero in on the returner. Without Dickson's performance, Seattle would have had a much more difficult time keeping the Chargers off the scoreboard.
Photo Credit: SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - NOVEMBER 04: Mike Williams #81 of the Los Angeles Chargers runs with the ball while being chased by Tre Flowers #37 of the Seattle Seahawks in the second quarter at CenturyLink Field on November 04, 2018 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)