BALTIMORE — Because the Seattle Seahawks had the good fortune of playing a favorable schedule through the first eight weeks of the year, the latter portion of the season will be used to evaluate whether they should truly be considered a contender.
Their first challenge: A trip to Baltimore to face the most complete team on the schedule thus far. The Ravens entered the Week 9 matchup at M&T Bank Stadium with the league’s interception leader. They also led the league in sacks. Their quarterback is among the favorites to win the MVP award. There’s no tougher test in the league right now.
The Seahawks failed that test. Miserably.
The final score says it all: Ravens 37, Seahawks 3.
“This was our first real big test, and we came out there and flatlined,” cornerback Tre Brown said. “We’ve gotta look ourselves in the eye and take accountability.”
To this point, Seattle (5-3) had the easiest schedule in the league by DVOA, but this game against Baltimore (7-2) marked the start of the third-hardest stretch of opponents to close the regular season. This was supposed to be a battle between two championship contenders. But it was Baltimore that looked like a team built to play in February. Seattle, which was dominated in the trenches on both sides of the ball, looked like a team built to be on vacation following a brief cameo in the playoffs. The 34-point margin of defeat equaled the second-largest of the Pete Carroll era (behind only a 42-7 loss to the Rams in 2017).
“It’s tough. It sucks,” quarterback Geno Smith said. “We were looking forward to this matchup, and I feel like we didn’t play our best football today. We made a ton of mistakes, a lot of things we need to correct. But as I always say, I put those things right at my own feet. I look at myself in the mirror and say, ‘What can I do better to help this team and to help my guys?’”
The obvious answer is to protect the football. Smith threw an interception while targeting Tyler Lockett in the second quarter — “That was on me; bad pass,” Smith said — and lost a fumble on a sack later in the period. Smith has turned the ball over eight times in the last four games.
Geno picks off Geno!
Geno Stone adds to his league-leading INT total.
— NFL (@NFL) November 5, 2023
Sunday marked his worst game as a Seahawk by expected points added per dropback (minus-0.50) and completion percentage (46.4) and his third-worst day on third down (all stats provided by TruMedia unless stated otherwise). Seattle converted 1 of 12 third-down attempts, easily its lowest success rate of the year.
Carroll said this game was not a referendum on Smith’s play — though the coach said he’s “concerned” about the turnovers — but it’s hard to overlook the fact the quarterback hasn’t played well since Week 3.
“I don’t think this is about Geno at all,” Carroll said. “I think this is about our football team, not answering the bell here. We couldn’t get it done. We came in here to slug it out, and they did a better job than we did with all of this. When they’re rushing the passer, that’s not Geno. This is not on one guy.”
Asked to assess his play Sunday, Smith said, “Not good enough.”
How can the Seahawks help Geno Smith through recent hiccups? Run the ball more
Seattle played Baltimore to a scoreless tie through the first quarter before everything unraveled. After punting on their first two possessions, the Ravens scored on seven of their next nine drives, then kneeled at the Seahawks’ 5-yard line on the final play of their 10th series to end the game.
Seattle’s only method of stopping Baltimore was to generate turnovers. Outside linebacker Boye Mafe had a strip-sack in the second quarter, and Brown forced receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to cough it up in the same period. Outside of those possessions, the Ravens were virtually unstoppable. They amassed 515 yards of offense, 298 of which came on the ground.
“We didn’t come out ready,” linebacker Jordyn Brooks said. “When you don’t come out ready against a good team, that’s what happens.”
Seattle entered this game with one of the best run defenses in the league, holding opponents to 3.6 yards per carry. On Sunday, Baltimore averaged 7.3 yards per carry, led by undrafted rookie Keaton Mitchell with 138 yards and a touchdown on nine carries, two of which were explosives: a 40-yard touchdown in the third quarter and a 60-yarder in the fourth. Prior to Sunday, Mitchell had never even carried the ball in a regular-season game.
Undrafted rookie RB Keaton Mitchell goes 40 yards for the TD!
— NFL (@NFL) November 5, 2023
“We just had some mental errors, myself included,” Brooks said of Seattle’s run defense. “Missed tackles. I just don’t think we were ready; not like how we had been. That’s the results you get when you’re not ready.”
Why weren’t they ready?
“Because we’re human,” Brooks said. “I think just having so much success early, riding high, you get a little caught up in that — and then you get humbled. That’s what it is to be human. Today we just showed we’re human.”
What transpired Sunday felt similar to Seattle’s three losses last season to the 49ers, who dominated the Seahawks up front on both sides. Despite a proactive move to beef up the defensive line, Seattle was dramatically outplayed by the Ravens. The Seahawks were gashed on the ground and hit Lamar Jackson just once on 30 dropbacks. Jackson completed 21 of 26 passes for 187 yards and rushed for an additional 60.
Seahawks roll the dice again in the Leonard Williams trade, eyeing championship contention
“They came out and they hit us in the mouth,” safety Jamal Adams said.
On the other side, Seattle’s offensive line didn’t do its quarterback any favors. The Seahawks had just 151 yards of offense and gained only six first downs. Running backs Ken Walker III and Zach Charbonnet had nowhere to go when they touched the ball, combining for 24 yards on 13 carries with only one first down. Failing in the running game put Smith and the offense in tough situations — their average distance to gain on third down was a season-high 9.8 yards — that were too much to overcome. Smith took four sacks and was hit five times on 33 dropbacks. Three of his passes were batted at the line of scrimmage.
“They was making Geno move and run around, so we gotta do better,” right tackle Jason Peters said. “I gotta do better.”
Seattle’s status as a contender can’t be determined entirely by how it performs against an AFC team that it wouldn’t have to see again until February. But how the Ravens were able to dominate is cause for concern. The Seahawks just traded a second-round pick to bolster the pass rush and couldn’t get home against a good offensive line. Their own offensive line was the healthiest it’s been since Week 1 — albeit still without right tackle Abraham Lucas — and couldn’t protect the quarterback or run the ball.
Worst of all, their run defense fell apart and allowed five explosive runs largely due to missed tackles. On Gus Edwards’ 42-yard carry in the third quarter, the running back evaded Quandre Diggs, plowed through Devon Witherspoon, stiff-armed Mafe and bounced off Riq Woolen. Mitchell was hardly touched on his 40-yard touchdown, and he dodged tackle attempts by Brown and Witherspoon on his 60-yard carry. These are issues Seattle can’t have if it wants to contend.
“That’s the part I need to look at the most,” Carroll said. “That’s what I’m most concerned about, the way that happened like that.”
Seattle came into this game against a quality opponent hoping to answer the call. Instead, the Seahawks will fly home with questions about their ability to hang with the best.
(Photo of Geno Smith: Patrick Smith / Getty Images)
“The Football 100,” the definitive ranking of the NFL’s best 100 players of all time, is on sale now. Order it here.