There are dozens of reasons to discount the significance of an NFL preseason game. The starters play sparingly, coaches do not game plan, et cetera. Plenty of analysts and cautious fans will tell you why you should hold off on getting too excited about the Seahawks blowout victory against the Los Angeles Chargers last night. I will not be one of them. The Seahawks demonstrated two things that stand independent of preseason precautions: energy and depth. Any Seattle fan who watched the team play preseason games in 2012 and 2013 knows how those ultra-talented rosters overwhelmed preseason opponents with second, third, and fourth string players who would ultimately not even make the final squad. That stopped in 2014, and returned with a vengeance on Sunday. Perhaps of equal importance, there was a genuine enthusiasm and swagger on display all night. Players were out there for one another. It all added up to one thing best said by Russell Wilson during the game, “We are back.”
The opening series was the least encouraging part of the evening. Philip took the Chargers offense 75 yards down the field for a touchdown, while converting three third downs, including a 3rd and goal from the 5-yard line. Antonio Gates was able to outmuscle rookie Shaquill Griffin on the final play. Griffin had done a nice job in coverage earlier in the drive on a go route along the left sideline. Seattle certainly would have preferred a better showing for their starting defense, but if the biggest question mark exiting this game is the Seahawks starting defense, I’ll gladly take it.
Seattle’s starting offense did a bit better. Wilson hit Paul Richardson for five yards and then tight end Marcus Lucas for 11 more. Richardson had one of the games great plays after a short Thomas Rawls run, beating his man off the line and diving forward to haul in a beautifully thrown pass from Wilson for 25 yards. The receiver landed directly on his shoulder, and we later found out he has an AC sprain, which will sideline him for a while. After another short Rawls run, Wilson was forced to throw early and incomplete after Germain Ifedi was beat inside. On 3rd and 7, Wilson was flushed from the pocket again and attempted to run for the first down, but was dragged down a couple yards shy. Blair Walsh’s first field goal attempt as a Seahawks was true from 42 yards.
Down 7-3, Seattle would go on to outscore Los Angeles 45-14 the rest of the way. Three first half turnovers played a huge role, as the Seahawks scored 24 points in the second quarter alone. Kasen Williams was the other major factor. The talented former Skyline High School and University of Washington receiver has never been able to put together a healthy preseason for the Seahawks. He had a golden opportunity last season, but just could not get on the field. It felt as if all that pent-up energy was channelled into a series of stunning catches in this game.
Williams shines, but roster spot is far from secure
Trevone Boykin showed a lot of faith in Williams, throwing jump ball after jump ball to the 6’3″ high jump specialist. Williams rose above defenders, and wrestled the ball from them. That ability to win 50/50 balls plays extremely well with Wilson, who is arguably the best deep ball thrower in the NFL. The Seahawks have missed having a weapon capable of those plays since Golden Tate left after 2013, although Chris Matthews briefly rekindled the flame in the Super Bowl the following season.
Williams finished with 4 catches in 4 targets for 119 yards (29.8 average). It was such a sterling performance that the common conclusion will be that he earned a roster spot. Not so fast.
Doug Baldwin Jr., Tyler Lockett, Paul Richardson and Jermaine Kearse are locks to make the roster. There may be some infinitesimal chance that a player pushes Kearse off the roster, but that’s not likely. Richardson was hurt, but the early expectation is he will be back in time for week one of the season. That is four spots. Seattle usually keeps five receivers.
Amara Darboh was a third round pick who did not play due to injury. It is rare for teams to cut third round picks. J.D. McKissic is a solid backup punt and kick returner, a good receiver, and a backup to C.J. Prosise as a receiving running back. Tanner McEvoy is a good special teams player who Pete Carroll is extremely high on despite a mediocre preseason thus far. Throw in Williams, and that would be four guys fighting for one spot. I tend to think the team will keep six receivers, but the math is tough for Williams even in that situation.
Kenny Lawler and David Moore had strong games last night and could make the competition even more fierce. Williams needs to stay healthy, string multiple good performances together, and make an impact on special teams. Only then can we start talking about him breaking camp with the Seahawks.
Chris Carson was better than his numbers, Boykin may have been worse
No player received more hype heading into this game than RB Chris Carson. He was the third back off the bench behind Rawls and Eddie Lacy and was the most impressive of the three. His final numbers were uninspiring (7 carries for 19 yards for 2.7 average), but two of those carries were 1-yard touchdowns. There was not a ton of running room on the night, but Carson lowered his shoulder and ran over players, including a 285-pound defensive end on one of his touchdowns. He was decisive, strong, and elusive.
He showed off a jump cut that covered a couple yards laterally on one play that opened my eyes. We had not seen much lateral quickness from him up until then, and it was nice to see he has that in his arsenal. Unlike the Williams situation, I am much more confident that Carson is in the driver’s seat to make this roster even in a crowded running back competition.
Alex Collins ran hard, but just does not have the upside that Carson does. Mike Davis is a very good backup tailback in this league, but that is probably his ceiling. Carson can be a featured back. He may be a perfect fit for this offense. Seattle could enter the season with four running backs capable of being the starter.
The quarterback position is not quite there. Boykin was getting showered with praise for his performance against the Chargers, and it was largely well deserved. He guided the team on multiple scoring drives and used his legs to create some big plays. The areas where I would pump the brakes a bit were related to his deep throws and pocket presence.
Williams made Boykin look great, but there were more yards to be had if Boykin had put the ball further downfield. He was short again on a throw to Cyril Grayson, who was three steps behind his defender, and the ball was easily picked off. Boykin was also quick to scramble and drop his head. This happens quite a bit in practice. These probably sound like nitpicking, but they are aspects of his game that will hold him back when facing starting caliber defenses.
The team gave him the lion’s share of snaps behind Wilson, indicating he is the expected backup. Austin Davis came in and performed quite well himself, showing a better command of the offense. He made line adjustments and read blitzes well. Those are skills that translate far better to real NFL action than underthrown jump balls. David missed rookie tight end Tyrone Swoopes for what should have been a rather easy touchdown, for what was his biggest mistake of the night.
What Boykin gives the Seahawks that Davis never will is a player who can replicate much of the movement of Wilson, as well as the unscripted scrambles. The edge continues to be in Boykin’s favor, but the door is still open for Davis.
Players who caught my eye
DE David Bass
Bass is a guy who has flashed at times during 1v1 pass rush drills during camp and got plenty of snaps as a LEO defensive end against the Chargers. He finished with a half-sack and a tackle for loss, but also had at least two pressures. He has 5.5 sacks in his three-year career. That may not sound like much, but it is two more than Cassius Marsh has in his career, and proves he can get to the QB against real NFL competition. This was a great night for a guy on the fringes of the roster.
DT Nazair Jones
The third round pick had a very good night with four tackles, a tackle for loss, and a QB hit. He also tipped a pass that was intercepted. He is 6’5″ and strong like ox. Jones was drafted as a run stuffer, but shows more potential creating pass pressure than 2016 second round pick Jarran Reed. Jones is the early favorite to replace Malik McDowell’s role, both as a 5-technique defensive end and as a 3-technique nickel defensive tackle.
DE Christian French
Added to the roster just a few days ago, French had himself quite a night. He recovered a gift fumble and nearly scored a touchdown, had a sack, and recovered another fumble at the end of the game. The team liked him last year, but he was injured. He certainly earned more snaps.
OL Rees Odhiambo
Odhiambo mostly played left guard, and had some standout moments both in pass protection and run blocking. My favorite highlight for Odhiambo was when a rusher got inside George Fant and Odhiambo was there to shove the player to the ground. As he attempted to get up, Odhiambo blocked him back to the ground and pancaked him. Nasty.
OL Ethan Pocic
Pocic showed a similar nasty streak. He could be seen finishing blocks all the way up to the whistle, and he was doing it from right tackle and center. It is getting harder and harder to keep this guy out of the starting five.
LB Terence Garvin
The speedster linebacker showed off his athleticism and instincts by reading a pass play, breaking off his coverage toward the throw, and being in position to catch a Michael Wilhoite tipped pass, before racing the distance for a touchdown. This guy is a perfect fit for this defense.
LB Michael Wilhoite
Wilhoite made that play, but also showed off his bully mentality, slamming running backs to the ground on a couple of occasions. This linebacker crew was solid.
TE Tyrone Swoopes
There is mounting evidence that Swoopes could be a difference making receiver at the tight end spot. He ran a skinny post on a third down play, and looked like a pro catching and converting the first down. He also had a 21-yard catch and run. The problem is he is not a blocker yet. That 21-yard catch came after he flubbed a block. Swoopes is looking like a practice squad player.
WR Kenny Lawler
Lawler hauled down a tough touchdown catch that I am not sure he would have held onto last season. He put on some extra weight and was able to absorb a big hit.
CB Shaquill Griffin
Griffin could not cover Gates in the endzone, but he did well on the go route, and did an excellent job as a gunner on punt coverage. The special teams looked great all night.
WR David Moore
Moore caught all three passes thrown his way, and showed off his physical run-after-the-catch ability on each of them. He still feels like a practice squad guy to me, but the talent is there.
It is fun anytime your team scores 48 points and blows out their opponent. That was certainly the case last night. What might have been most striking, though, was intangible feeling that the Seahawks mojo was back. Richard Sherman was all smiles and was battled Kam Chancellor and Bobby Wagner for chief cheerleader on the sideline. The backup players flashed speed and aggressiveness befitting Pete Carroll’s style. It felt like a massive infusion of fresh blood combined perfectly with fresh perspective.
The four major areas of Seahawks identity that I called out during the offseason were:
- Running game
- Explosive plays
- Special teams
Seattle did not run the ball that effectively, but showed a clear commitment to doing so and there were some promising signs at on the line and at the running back position. They created four turnovers, and you could almost feel them coming as their reserves outclassed the Chargers backups. There were plenty of explosive plays on offense and very few allowed on defense, and special teams was terrific all night.
It was not just that the Seahawks played well, but it was how they played well. This was a familiarity to it, like seeing a long lost friend. That is what I walk away with from this game. Being cautious and measured is smart. Being excited and bought in feels right. On to the next.