We’ve become accustomed to elite teams having at least one factor contributing to their success.
Earlier in the year, it was Russell Wilson and the Seahawks potent offense that had people raving about the possibility of Seattle making a trip to the Super Bowl in February. However, that early-season surprise wore off quickly as Seattle’s defense transformed into a stout wrecking crew while its offense began executing horrifically.
Still, the Seahawks managed a 12-win season for the first time since 2014 and won the NFC West for the first time since 2016.
But none of that mattered as the Seahawks suffered a brutal collapse on Saturday, falling 30-20 in a humiliating Super Wild Card Round loss to their division foes, the Los Angeles Rams. For Pete Carroll, the early playoff exit was disheartening.
"It's really frustrating to be done," Carroll said Saturday after his first home playoff loss in Seattle. "The sudden of this, there's nothing like it. You just have to deal with it. ... Real disappointed in this outcome."
Seattle has struggled against Los Angeles throughout Pete Carroll’s tenure. Sean McVay has led the Rams to a 6-3 record through 9 matchups, but there’s been one key element in Los Angeles’ success.
Seattle has yet to find a way to stop Rams’ star defender, Aaron Donald.
“There’s one factor in this whole thing, the whole thing, since we’ve been here playing these guys, and that’s No. 99,” Carroll said following Saturday’s loss. “He hasn’t just torn us up, he’s torn everybody up, and he continues to be a significant factor. He tilts it somewhat, and that’s why I had hoped when he got banged up that we could take advantage of him not being out there, and I don’t know if it’s going to look that way, numbers-wise and all that, but that’s the factor.”
Donald, who came in and out of the game on Saturday with a rib injury, has been an absolute terror for the Seahawks throughout the years. In 15 career games vs. Seattle, including Saturday’s Super Wild Card Game, Donald has 15 sacks, 22 tackles for loss and 39 quarterback hits.
“I wish we could find a way to stop him,” Carroll explained. “I don’t know who has, but we haven’t found enough ways and what happens is when you pay as much attention to him as you have to, other guys can factor in. ... They’ve got a really good nucleus of what it takes to have a really good defense, and their coaches have done a great job of utilizing it over the years and that factor has not gone away.”
Donald has unarguably been a problem for the Seahawks, including Wilson. Donald and Leonard Floyd combined to create 11 of the 18 pressures Wilson faced on Saturday, per ESPN’s Stats and Info.
Wilson was pressured on a season-high 50 percent of his dropbacks and completed just 11 of 27 passes vs. the Rams for 174 yards and two touchdowns and one interception.
"We gotta be better,” Wilson said. “We gotta find a way to win these matchups. Obviously, I’m frustrated.”
Through three games vs. LA this season, Wilson had a 73.6 passer rating and averaged 5.5 sacks per game vs. the Rams.
“We haven’t been able to keep Russ as clean as we like to,” Carroll said. “That’s been a problem for us over the years and that causes other issues… We do get sacked a lot and that’s something that’s reoccurred.”
Players like Donald won’t go away as Seattle turns the page to another NFL season. Russell Wilson's window of opportunity isn't open forever either. If the Seahawks want to be seriously looked at as a contender, they will need to find that factor that won’t go away for their opponents, starting in 2021.