NFL Playoffs: What Went Wrong for the Colts and Seahawks?
Wildcard weekend of the NFL Playoffs is over, but for the Indianapolis Colts and Seattle Seahawks, it is time to lament their losses and work out why they suffered a heartbreaking elimination at the first hurdle. We look at some of the reasons behind their defeats.
By Ryan Edwardson
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The Bills edged out the Colts in a game that ended up being much closer than Buffalo would have wanted. Indy went toe-to-toe with the second seed for almost all of the game until Buffalo began to pull away midway through the third quarter, but it could have been so different for Phillip Rivers and Frank Reich – what went wrong?
Fourth down woes wobble Colts
In an entirely winnable game for the Colts, it was their fourth down plays that decided the course of the game.
Up 10-7 and approaching halftime, Indy had a chance to further their lead camped on the goal line as the two-minute warning approached. The Bills turned them away three times, leaving Frank Reich with a decision to make. Reich went for it and the Colts were just inches away from completing the pass, but the Bills defensive pressure caused Rivers to be put off balance and the ball was a few inches too far for a diving Michael Pittman to bring in.
The fourth down problems didn’t end for the Colts there. Down by seven, Rivers threw two incompletions to end up on fourth down. On the back of a good rookie season and having hit a 30-yarder earlier in the game, you probably would have put money on Rodrigo Blankenship splitting the uprights from 33. But the Double Doink reared its ugly head in the Wildcard game yet again and the ball bounced off both uprights.
Coming away with no points from these two drives in the playoffs is bad enough, but these were compounded by the fact that the Bills scored 14 points directly after these missed opportunities.
After the missed fourth down conversion, Josh Allen led a 95-yard drive (helped by a terrible jump offside by Kemoko Turay on fourth down) which he capped off by a rushing touchdown.
Josh Allen also capitalised on the missed field goal, hitting a long pass to Stefon Diggs putting the Bills 14 points up and creating an insurmountable lead for the Bills.
With so many coaches being criticised for their ‘cowardice’ and lack of aggression this weekend, Reich should be commended. He knew that the Colts would need to outpower and outscore this Bills offense for any chance at a win and at the time the Bills looked unlikely to go the 95 yards to score. One slightly better throw and the Colts are in control for the second half, which suddenly becomes a very different game than what transpired.
It’s that kind of playcalling that won Reich a Superbowl in Philly - you have to take control of your own destiny as an underdog in the playoffs. Even despite missing out on those points, if Blankenship hits the field goal in the third, the Colts could still be driving for a win at the end of the game with the scores tied.
Can’t clutch, won’t clutch
The final drive was so Rivers-ian that Indy might as well have been playing in Chargers Powder Blue. Balls were underthrown, choices of passes were not on the money and at no point watching the drive did you expect the Colts to win the game. Even when they were given a very contentious call on a lost fumble from Zach Pascal that was overturned, you still didn’t think they’d make it.
It capped off a game where the Colts just looked slightly out of sync on those key moments and just not quite in top gear when they needed to, which is how they’ve been for most of the year. They’ve ground victories out by working together as a team, without ever being stellar and that’s just not enough when it comes to the playoffs and facing the #2 seed.
All eyes turn to whether Rivers stays or goes in the off-season, but either way I think that Frank Reich needs to look at sanding down these edges on offense and propping up that defense.
Something to Bill-d on
The Bills made it through, but they were far from perfect. They were a few inches away from having conceded 34 points against the Colts. Indy put up 472 yards and put pressure on the Bills through both the air and on the ground, holding the ball for 35 minutes. They face the Ravens on Sunday and Lamar Jackson and co will likely employ a similar game, so they’ll have to fix those issues if they want to get to the AFC title game.
Plenty of things went wrong in this one for the Seahawks! Divisional games are always a little bit odd, but Seattle simply didn’t turn up on offense for this. An impressive Rams defense and resurgent Cam Akers helped an injured Jared Goff into the Divisional Round. So, what went wrong for Pete Carroll and company?
Directionless in Seattle
Seattle’s offense looked a far cry from the team that was ripping up defenses at the start of the season. The Seahawks offense had regressed over the second half of the season, but even with that in mind this attack looked notably more lacklustre than it had for the last few weeks. The playcalling was conservative from the start and despite failing to really establish an effective ground game, there was no hint of changing to a pass-heavy attack.
Add that to the confusion that was rippling through Seahawks offensive line and it’s a recipe for disaster for Seattle. Playing together for the first time in months, the Seahawks blockers looked confused and dumbfounded as Aaron Donald and Leonard Floyd ripped into them. The Rams defensive line plunged through a porous Seahawks O-line, stopping any chance of putting together the type of long controlling drive that Seattle had been using to win games recently and making Russell Wilson panic. Despite trailing for most of the game Wilson threw for just 174 yards, going 11/27 and picking up 50 yards on the ground.
The Seahawks have made a habit of not trying to force passes into coverage throughout the season and against a tough Rams coverage this continued all night. Wilson often threw short of the first down markers, leaving DK Metcalf and other receivers visibly agitated at the lack of targets. The lack of passing attack was made even more surprising by the fact that when the ball was lofted downfield the Seahawks receivers made some excellent catches (Tyler Lockett with a particularly stylish one-handed grab at the start of the game).
How could this offense continue to be so shackled and one-dimensional? Also absent from the passing attack were the Seattle tight ends. The normally versatile three-man crew have been making hard yards up and down Lumen Field this season, but on Saturday only Will Dissly caught a pass. For one yard.
Terrible turnovers tantamount to trouble
Coming into the playoffs, the Seahawks were 0-4 in games with a negative turnover margin and turnovers proved to be key again on Saturday. After scoring a field goal the Rams then intercepted a WR screen when Darious Williams took it to the house. Whilst this only put the Rams up by 10, it swung the momentum of the game into the Rams’ favour and gave them a lead they wouldn’t give up.
Conversely the Seahawks defense never really looked like forcing that kind of turnover. They pressured Goff a bit, but with Akers ripping a hole in the previously stalwart run defense they were at sixes and sevens for most of the game.
Unable to make their mark like the Rams’ defense, the Seahawks were in trouble – the offense needs an impact from the defense to be able to carry the team to a win.
Most of Seattle’s late season wins have come because the defense got a big turnover or a big stop which allowed the offense the advantage of a short field. With poor field position (and some killer offensive penalties) coming throughout the day this never looked like happening and the Rams dominated the territory game all day long.
The killer blow to any possible Russell Wilson magic came on special teams, just inside the fourth quarter. Down ten points, the Seattle defense forced a three and out, but as so often happens when trying to make a big play the ensuing punt return was fumbled by DJ Reed, allowing Jared Goff to start on the Seattle 36.
Four plays later, with the defense selling out to stop the run, Goff found a wide-open Robert Woods who waltzed untouched into the endzone.
Rain all over the Parade
Losing the turnover and territory battles meant that the Hawks had no foothold in the game at all.
With all that in mind it is really not surprising that Seahawks fans are questioning why this once gun-slinging attack has fallen to such depths, especially at a time when it’s win or go home. There was no killer instinct shown by the Seahawks offense at all on Sunday, and it’s something that has been lacking from Seattle for some time.
Pete Carroll and Brian Schottenheimer have long been criticised for their conservative game plans, with similar playoff losses coming against Dallas and Green Bay in recent seasons where the offense looked just as lifeless as they did this weekend.
This has to change if Seattle are to take the next step. (Edit: Schottenheimer has since been relieved of his duties.)
Running rampage to roll on?
Cam Akers put the L.A. offense on his back on Saturday and it’s likely he’ll need to do that again if the Rams are to beat the Packers next weekend. The McVay offensive scheme relies on a strong run game setting up the pass, which is why the Rams have been so inconsistent this year – they’ve been unable to find that Gurley replacement. But this season we’ve seen that Green Bay can be streaky if not in their groove, being run close by teams like the Jags and with losses to the Vikings, Colts and Bucs. If the Rams D can frustrate Aaron Rodgers early on and Cam Akers gets going again, Green Bay could find themselves in a hole pretty quickly.