It is nearly a foregone conclusion that the NFL will go to an 18-game schedule after the new CBA is signed, cutting the pre-season from 4 games to 2. After nearly winning their seventh straight pre-season contest, I was starting to think the Seahawks should lobby to increase the pre-season schedule to 9 or 10 games. Ironically, they played perhaps their most inspiring game of those last seven in a loss to the Packers.
Before I get to the bad news about Okung and others, let me take a few minutes to do something I haven’t done in many moons, lavish praise on the first-string offense. As was the case last week, the QB will get a lot of attention and kudos. This week, it was Matt Hasselbeck looking masterful in guiding the starters to two touchdowns in their first five possessions. That is not “masterful” by NFL standards, but getting into the endzone twice in one half would have had Hawks fans dancing in the street last season. The fact that one of that TDs was the result of a “look at me mommy, I wear big boy underwear now” 80-yard drive made it matter that much more. There were times last pre-season I remember feeling a similar sense of optimism, so it would be wise not to get too far ahead of our skies.
Matt, though, was not the star of this game for the Hawks. In fact, no player was. Offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates began to put his stamp on this offense and I loved what he’s doing. We saw creative motion, clever misdirection, complimentary receivers patterns, and most important of all we saw space created for wide receivers to make plays. If you go back and watch the tape from last week’s Titans game, you will notice that nobody was open with the first-team offense. There was throws and catches that could be made, but there was no separation between the receivers and the defenders. I attributed much of that to mud-footed starting receiving crew, but had private concerns about the offense. The hallmark of any good offense is its ability to create low-risk opportunities to pick up chunks of yards. The West Coast offense relies on precision-timing and shorter routes. Bates’ offense appears to rely more on clearing out space via overlapping routes and misdirection. Whether it was the first Mike Williams catch where he ran over the top of the underneath receiver, the drag option route that had Matt pitching the ball forward, or a myriad of other plays, we saw receivers catching the ball with space. The best offenses in the NFL can make plays whether there is space or not, but all offenses need some breathing room sooner or later. The combination of good play design, good play calling, and solid execution was encouraging and fun to watch.
Mike Williams played exclusively with the starters tonight as the third receiver, and holy cow, he is a breath of fresh air. Through the most roundabout path one could imagine, I think Williams has become the best wide receiver prospect (he’s only 26) the Seahawks have had since at least Koren Robinson. Williams flashed good-to-great hands, good speed and crisp routes. This may have already been obvious to all of you, but after watching so many short receivers for so many years, I forgot how beneficial it is to have tall receivers in intermediate routes. If you imagine the arc a ball needs to travel to go over the linebackers, but in front of the secondary, it absolutely matters if the receiver is 5’9″ or 6’5″. Hasselbeck could almost throw it on a line over the LBs and Williams was able to just pluck it out of the air. Not fair! I love that. Housh played a good game. Branch was a TD reception away from being bad. Carlson was horrible (more on that in a second). It seemed like every time Williams came in, the offense gained momentum. That’s now two weeks in a row you could make that claim.
Now, I’m a big Carlson fan. I’ve been predicting Pro Bowl seasons for two years. The kid belonged in the Toilet Bowl last night. I have come to expect some challenges blocking, but the multiple dropped passes that hit him square in the hands can’t happen. Carlson needs to wake up. He is sliding, and we need to see him progressing. Even if we expect him to struggle as a blocker, he cannot be putrid, and that’s what he was last night. I’ll watch again on DVR to see if I’m being too harsh, but at least a few of the running plays getting stuffed were due to linebackers tossing Carlson out of the way and waltzing into the backfield. We are simply not good enough to overcome that level of incompetence. Come on, John. We’re pulling for ya.
Forsett and Julius Jones had almost identical numbers for the 2nd week in a row, and I still am happy to say without hesitation that Forsett is good and Jones sucks. Leon Washington burst onto the scene and reminded us there may be something even better in the arsenal. I don’t think he’s running at the same speed he once did, but his acceleration is still noticeable compared to the other backs. He also made a highlight reel block in pass protection of a blitzing safety. If he can prove to be healthy, expect to see lots and lots of him this season. Playmakers welcome.
Now to the line. Oh dear. I must admit this may be my fault. I am not only a fan of the Seahawks, but of the Trail Blazers and Mariners as well. My teams have some bad luck when it comes to #1 picks getting injured, and it happened again last night with Russell Okung. This kid was on the expressway to the ring of honor before rolling an ankle in the first series. The total lack of optimism from Pete Carroll and the uttering of the dreaded “high ankle sprain” means Hawks fans should brace for the worst. I’ve read tweets to not expect Okung to play in the opener. Thanks, Captain Obvious. The average high ankle sprain seems to take 6-8 weeks to heal. That would put us out past the bye in week 5, with a return in week 6 against the Bears. This just sucks. I don’t want to talk about it anymore. Let’s hope for the best.
The defense is bad folks. Just admit it. I promise it feels a tiny bit better when you assume we are the worst defense in the NFL, and then are pleasantly surprised when we make a play or force the other team to punt. We have not seen Tatupu, but for god sakes, stop acting like he’s a massive difference-maker. Tatupu is only as good as the lineman in front of him, and even then, he’s become an average MLB in the NFL. He certainly is a better coverage guy than David Hawthorne, who got mis-aligned and beat multiple times including the wide open TD to the Packers TE. The linebacker group is sliding down the charts here. Aaron Curry is not in the box score. Let me say that again: “Aaron Curry, the #4 pick in last year’s draft, who played almost 75% of the game last night, did not register a sack or a tackle.” Ear muffs, kids. Fuck me! Son of bitch! Do I need to abandon the hope that Curry is even a passable starting linebacker, let alone a Pro Bowl caliber player?!? To be fair, I did see a couple QB pressures, and a moment where he blew up a play in the backfield, but come on. This defense was designed for Curry as much as anyone else, and he’s invisible. As good of a sign as Okung’s play was for the offense in the first game, that’s how bad of a sign it is for the Seahawks defense if Curry continues to play like this.
Chris Clemons was also nearly shutout, registering a whopping 1 tackle. Red Bryant looked good, but is unlikely to ever successfully chase down a QB that sees him. EJ Wilson showed up a little, which was good to see. Kentwan Balmer played, but I didn’t expect that and wasn’t looking for him, so I’ll look again on DVR. Vickerson was not nearly as disruptive this week, and Craig Terrill should be on the roster bubble. I don’t think he offers anything anymore. On the plus side, my man Dexter Davis had another notable game. He shot at the QB like a missile on that sack, forced fumble and recovery. I turned to my friend and said, “who the hell was THAT?” Don’t book his trip to Canton yet, but at least he shows up in the game.
Earl Thomas had a great game. That’s right. He got burned multiple times, including on the opening play, and Seahawks fans should rejoice. The kid is really young, bursting with confidence, and used to making plays. That combination equals burnt toast in the NFL. Last night’s game won’t eliminate the potential for bad reads and rookie mistakes, but it will start him on the path to being a legit NFL safety. It would have been ideal for that to happen in game 1 of the pre-season, but game 2 ain’t bad.
I missed a fair chunk of the fourth quarter on the bus ride home to relieve the babysitter, so if anything else jumps out at me after watching it on DVR, I’ll be sure to share. For now, feel free to add your thoughts. Great loss!