Byron Maxwell is a disaster. That was the story for many fans and some media members a year ago after the cornerback was picked on by Peyton Manning and Demaryius Thomas in the team’s first preseason game last year. That disaster went on to sign a $60M contract with the Eagles after being a key part of the best defense in the NFL yet again. A more accurate takeaway from that game was that the Seahawks depth was thinner than past seasons. Watching preseason game one requires an ability to ignore some aspects of the game while zeroing on others. This guide is meant to help you do both.
What to watch
The depth chart
Who starts the game on offense, on defense, and on all the special teams units will tell you a lot about what the coaching staff thinks of the players. Paying attention here is not only about who plays on base packages, but also subpackages like nickel defense, third down offense, red zone offense, et cetera.
The starters will get at least one series, and may get two. Keep an eye on who comes in as the second unit as well.
Run blocking, pass blocking and discipline of the offensive line
These guys may be the biggest risk to a successful season. There were significant pass protection issues last year against the Broncos that hounded Seattle for much of the regular season as well. How does Drew Nowak hold up against real competition? Same question goes for whoever plays left guard.
It is also worth watching for false starts and communication issues just to get an idea how far this group has to go in order to become a functioning whole.
As with all these things, the pass rush should be graded on a scale. How constant is the pressure? Is it coming from different players? Are they getting both edge pressure and interior pressure? This is the part of game I am looking forward to the most. Frank Clark may show up in this game more than he ever will in a limited contact practice setting.
Denver’s offensive line is inexperienced and Peyton Manning is not playing, so ten sacks tonight does not mean the Seahawks are going to blitzkrieg the NFL, but consistent pressure would be a great early sign.
Christine Michael, especially ball security
Pete Carroll was not shy about shining the spotlight on Christine Michael during his press conference yesterday. The team is going to give Michael an extended look during preseason to see just what they have in him. While most of the conversation is about his blocking ability and attention to detail, the key thing here is for Michael to hold onto the ball.
He fumbled a few times during the preseason last year, and that followed him into the regular season. There is no quicker way to find the pine that putting the ball on the turf. If Michael can manage to go the entire preseason without fumbling the ball, he will greatly increase the team’s confidence in him.
The Broncos lineup turnover
The most common mistake fans make when watching a preseason game is getting overly excited about a player doing something amazing against the second, third or fourth string of their opponent. Rosters are still at 90 players, which means most of the players who play the second half and nearly all the players in the fourth quarter, will have trouble ever making an NFL roster.
Each quarter of the game is almost a game unto itself, with each quarter representing a progression down each team’s farm system. By the fourth, it is like a Single A minor league team.
Getting excited about good plays is fine. It just more likely means the guy will get promoted to a higher level of competition the following week than that he is already worth anointing a star.
Watch Tyler Lockett run routes. Ignore the ball and the quarterback for a few plays and just watch Lockett. Try to see how much separation he is getting. Look for how well he is able to release from the line if his defender tries to bump him. Keep an eye on what he does after the catch and whether he is smart about avoiding contact so we know how durable he will be. And, of course, watch him return kicks and punts.
Tony McDaniel is gone. Ahtyba Rubin has stepped forward. Denver runners may get some yards if tackling is sloppy, which is often the case in the first preseason game. What is worth looking for is whether the defensive line is getting pushed around at all.
Williams is back and has mostly been playing nose tackle. If he is able to show some potential in this game, it would create some competition for D’Anthony Smith as the backup there. It is still not clear how much of this is just a feel good story versus an actual prospect who can contribute to an NFL lineup.
When to slow your roll
Keep in mind that these are games played to evaluate players, not to win. Coaches are not breaking down Broncos film or even thinking about their opponent at all. They are working on substitution patterns and scenario planning that will maximize their ability to judge who should be a Seahawk.
These games are played to evaluate players, not to win
Seattle went undefeated during the preseason in 2012 and 2013. That said more about their depth than their season potential. The Seahawks went 2-2 last year and lost to the Raiders. They wound up a yard away from consecutive Lombardi trophies.
Second half stars
Nick Reed, Demetrius Bronson, and Benson Mayowa have all taken turns exciting fans late in preseason games only to get cut before the season starts. The level of competition difference cannot be overemphasized once both teams get into their third and fourth string players. It goes beyond talent. Communication and familiarity with the system is significantly less. Players can absolutely still be evaluated in this situation. Reactions should just be tempered.
Running backs in general
Tackling is usually pretty bad early on. It is common for runners to look fantastic in the preseason in terms of yardage. Try to pay less attention to that, and more attention to the player’s burst and ability to run through contact. Also look for how those attributes compare to the other runners on the field. Rod Smith might look great, but how did he look compared to Thomas Rawls in terms of burst, pass catching and blocking?
It is often tough to evaluate corners in the preseason due to the lack of game planning. Teams heavily plan their coverages based on their opponent during the regular season, but do none of that for these games. That is how something like the Maxwell debacle happened last year. That will be exacerbated by the absence of Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. Second string safeties will be starting which means third string safeties are now second string, and so on. On the flip side, any corner that plays well deserves extra credit.