Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Morning After - Seahawks Win vs. Raiders, 20-3

THE BOTTOM LINE (AT THE TOP)
Seattle had its best game of the pre-season in winning 20-3 over the Oakland Raiders. The way the team played was significant even with all the caveats associated with a fourth pre-season game. The Seahawks, and their fans, now enter the regular season with some level of confidence in their ability to compete in an NFL game.

PLAYERS THAT STOOD OUT
Aaron Curry
Curry showed discipline on multiple plays that demonstrated real progress as a professional linebacker. His stick of Michael Bush in the hole on 3rd and 2 in the 1st quarter was a quintessential gap fill of a powerful running back. This is the second-straight week Curry has grabbed attention for heady plays, after going almost two whole seasons without a single such occurrence.

Kris Durham
The rookie showed promise previously unseen before. His blocking was as remarkable as his receiving, including a key block on the 3rd and 15 screen pass to Justin Forsett on the team's first drive. He was fearless going over the middle and extending himself for high passes.

Pep Levingston
His stats do not tell the story of Levingston's contributions Friday night. He was stout against the run, occupying blockers and shoving them backwards, while consistently collapsing the pocket. He was close to having three sacks (ending with only 0.5), a week after having two.

Walter Thurmond
Thurmond is in danger of always having potential and never having production. He was picked on for the second straight week, and yielded a number of big completions again. Pick any excuse you'd like for the kid, but he has yet to play a game that comes close to warranting the hype.

Maurice Fountain
Fountain was disruptive again, but only after the Raiders started bringing in their third string players. He is an older player (28), so it is hard to say whether he did enough to make coaches think he was worth keeping around.

Golden Tate
Tate will get all the attention this week after his best performance. He played a nice game, but Tarvaris Jackson made a telling comment in a post-game interview when asked about Tate's performance, "The best thing he did tonight was running the right routes and making the right reads. He was where he was supposed to be." That tells a pretty clear story of how Tate is seen by coaches and QBs. Note that for all the plays he made, he got little in the way of separation from his defenders. That indicates his success may be less repeatable than fans may hope.

Vai Taua
Despite the pre-season love affair with Thomas Clayton, it Taua who has a better chance of ever pulling on a Seahawks uniform during a regular season game. Clayton is not practice squad eligible, and won't make the roster. Taua is eligible, and has an ideal running style for this offense. He will rarely take a negative play, as he runs deftly between defenders and has the strength to run through some. Don't be surprised if Taua gets signed to the practice squad and becomes part of the team's plans next season.

James Carpenter
Carpenter was the goat of the week, and the poster boy for bad offensive line play during the pre-season. The rookie right tackle showed great character in having a solid game in pass protection, even after having a false start in the first series. The Raiders sent blitzers on his side, but Carpenter showed ability to pick up pass rushers and play sound football. Don't give up on this kid too quickly.

FINAL THOUGHTS
Seahawks coaches deserve credit for putting together a solid game plan, especially Darrell Bevell and Tom Cable. Seattle ran on first down in three of their first four first down plays during the opening drive, and incorporated pressure-relieving screen passes and roll-outs to prove the offense was not hopeless. The team rewarded them by executing well enough leave everyone breathing a sigh of relief heading in the regular season opener. Tarvaris Jackson could finally be judged since he had time to make decisions and throws. The results were divided almost evenly. His decision-making was highly questionable on a few plays, including an inexcusable forced pass into the endzone that resulted in an interception while at least three receivers were wide open on shorter routes right in front of him. He seems to have an affinity for going deep, but needs to make the right reads to avoid lots of turnovers. On the plus side, he throws a very nice deep ball that it is not hard to picture Sidney Rice coming down with quite a few times. His 9.3 yards-per-attempt was double his pre-season average, and were well-earned yards (unlike Charlie Whitehurst who benefited from a fluke 32-yard gain from Leon Washington that was a poorly thrown ball into a covered receiver).

Mike Gibson may start pressing Max Unger for playing time if both players trajectories continue. Unger struggled again in pass protection and did not get much push in the running game. Gibson was stout, and was an above average guard at times when he started last season. The line, as a whole, played a nice game. The second and third string players opened bigger and bigger holes, demonstrating there is some depth there.

Seattle's defense was very good again. The line was disruptive and stout, and the linebackers enjoyed their best game thus far. Rookie KJ Wright demonstrated excellent open-field tackling. Leroy Hill ran down plays consistently, and rookie Malcolm Smith found a bushel of tackles again. Curry was the most impressive as he showed terrific recognition on an early bootleg pass, staying with the tight end beautifully in coverage. Later in the same quarter he filled the hole perfectly by getting extremely low to stick Michael Bush on 3rd down. Very nice game for the much-maligned linebacker.

The Seahawks enter the season with pretty clear blueprint of what they need to do in order to win games. Protecting the passer (both as individual players and as coaches game-planning), commitment to the running game, and a stout defense that can create turnovers will be the formula to look for. Tarvaris Jackson's decision-making could wind up being a bigger factor in how the season unfolds than the young offensive line. Kudos to the coaches for putting the team in position to win Saturday night. It's time for some real football.


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