Being the best in the NFL is a transient state. One injury to one player can shift the power dynamic across the entire league. Two things can help mitigate that risk: depth and youth. It was clear from watching the Seahawks play their first preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts that Seattle is incredibly thin on some parts of the roster, while also flashing some promising young players who could shore up others.
Three fresh faces jumped off the screen for Seattle.
RB Chris Carson
Carson showed once again why he is in a class by himself in the Seahawks backfield. He bulled his way to hard-earned yardage inside, and flashed lightning speed and agility outside. He only carried the ball four times, but it was must-see TV each time. Carson finished with 26 yards on those 4 carries for a healthy 6.5 yard average. The numbers mostly do not matter, but the skill and athletic ability he demonstrated translate very clearly into regular season NFL play. This guy could be one of the top backs in the NFL this season. My unsolicited advice to Pete Carroll is to treat him like Marshawn Lynch the rest of the preseason and keep him on the sidelines.
DL Rasheem Green
While Carson was somewhat predictably impressive, Green was far more of a wildcard. He was drafted in the third round this year to help the Seahawks replace some of Michael Bennett’s production on the defensive line. Still only 21, Green is a guy many expected to need a year of seasoning before he could really be a heavy contributor. Those appear to be conservative estimates. Green played the entire game, mostly at the 5-technique defensive end spot that Bennett used to play. He was a force rushing the passer and made numerous plays against the run. What stands out about watching Green play are his hands and his quickness. One of the more underrated parts of becoming a skilled pass rusher in the NFL is finding ways to keep opposing linemen’s hands off of you. This is why you hear of so many players taking martial arts training. Green is by no means perfect in this aspect of his game, but he is relatively advanced for a young player. The combination of his quickness and his ability to keep hands off him make him precocious as a pass rusher.
Green’s development is perhaps the most promising sign coming out of this game. It is not out of the question to think he may begin the season as the starter opposite Frank Clark. If he is able to earn that job and be a guy who can finish the season with 5+ sacks, that would be a significant addition to the new Seahawks foundation that is being laid.
LB Shaquem Griffin
Griffin was sure to get attention no matter what because of his amazing story. He continues to fight for respect on the field as much as off. A gifted athlete with great speed, Griffin led the team in tackles with nine, including a nice tackle for loss. He still looks a little bit lost at times, which is to be expected, but his playmaking is undeniable. The coaches have the raw materials for an impact defensive player. I still have some questions as to whether linebacker is his best position. He might have an easier time finding the field as a strong safety, and would immediately become a big safety instead of a small linebacker. That is unlikely to happen this season given the learning curve he is already on for linebacker. Either way, Griffin looks to be a player who can contribute meaningful snaps this season should the team need him.
The offensive line is another area where there are annual question marks. The starting line barely played, but did a fine job when they were in there. The Colts defense is not going to strike fear in any team, so all this comes with a big asterisk. It was nice to see George Fant make it back for live game action. His length jumped out on one early play where a Colts defender got a quick jump off the edge, but Fant’s long arms allowed him to recover and re-route the defender harmlessly beyond the quarterback.
Fant’s play becomes increasingly important as two tackles went down with injury. Promising rookie Jamarco Jones was carted off the field and Isaiah Battle left with a knee injury. Both injuries sound serious, but neither should be season-ending based on Carroll’s postgame comments. The news on Jones was especially encouraging considering it initially looked like another broken ankle.
Overall, the depth on the line looked really bad. The second and third string lines were giving up a lot of quick pressure.
Carson was great. Rookie Rashaad Penny had a rough debut. He carried the ball a team-high 8 times and only netted 16 yards for a paltry 2.0 yard average. It was not all bad as he showed some wiggle and power. Overall, I’m continuing to look for the evidence that Penny can be more than a middle-of-the-road NFL running back. That is not about numbers. It is about showcasing a skill, and preferably a set of skills, that set him apart. Carson has the power, the speed, the agility of top NFL backs. Mike Davis has shown terrific lateral agility at times. What is Penny’s superpower? Here’s to hoping that he reveals it soon.
Receivers & Tight Ends
Nick Vannett and Will Dissly had nice evenings. Both tight ends caught two passes, and Vannett counted a touchdown as one of them. It appeared the tight end may play a more prominent role in Brian Schottenheimer’s offense. That has been the case during camp, and held true in the first game. The Seahawks are not asking their tight ends to be game-breakers. Short and intermediate routes through the middle of the field have been the norm.
It was a tough game for receivers to show much as the backup quarterbacks struggled. David Moore had a nice catch down the sideline and was wide open for another that Alex McGough threw just a hair too far. Moore suffered a nasty helmet-to-helmet hit on the play that was egregious enough to get the Colts player ejected.
Let’s check back on this group next week when Russell Wilson will play longer. I am not overly concerned here. Brandon Marshall, Tyler Lockett, and Jaron Brown should be enough. Fingers remain crossed the Doug Baldwin is truly on track to be available for the regular season.
Ugh. Austin Davis turned what would have been a perfectly good first drive into a disaster by throwing an interception in the end zone. Yes, he was 4-4 before that, but none of that matters if you are a guy who makes that throw without any pressure. He literally stared at the defender, saw there was no Seahawk receiver who could make the play, and chose to throw it directly to the Colts player. Bad. McGough looked in way over his head. He averaged just 3.7 yards per throw and was sacked twice. This is not exactly a battle of the titans at the backup spot.
We already talked about Green, and how big of a deal that could be. The other young player who had a nice game was Jacob Martin. He did not flash as much as Green, but did finish with a half-sack and put some nice pressure on the quarterback. It was tough to judge the play of the starting interior linemen as they were in so briefly. I’m still bullish on guys like Jarran Reed and Naz Jones. The Colts managed only 76 yards rushing and 2.3 yards per carry. That’s a good sign.
One new name to watch is Joey Ivie. He was just signed before the game and ended up with a quarterback hit and a touchdown on a fumble recovery. He also got a roughing the passer call, which is bad, but the pressure was good. Having never seen him play before, Ivie got my attention as a guy who flashed some strength driving a double team into the backfield, some speed, and high effort. I’m betting he got the coaches attention as well.
Austin Calitro had a nice game with 8 tackles, but it felt more like preseason filler action than “keep an eye on this guy,” kind of production. We saw a nice sack from Barkevious Mingo. Albeit, against backups.
Delano Hill had a nice game all the way up until the last play where he failed to make a tackle in the backfield that could have given the Seahawks the ball back. I thought he was the most impressive secondary player on the evening. Hill finished with two tackles for loss and stripped a punt return of the football. The refs ridiculously said the player’s forward motion had been stopped, but that does not diminish the play Hill made. Tedric Thompson made some nice tackles coming downhill to support the run, and Bradley McDougald had a nice tackle for loss while he was playing.
Tre Flowers got the start opposite Shaquill Griffin and mostly did a nice job. He stayed in front of his receiver, and was only challenged deep once. There was a defensive pass interference early and could have been another on the deep pass if he had managed to grab the receiver as he was swiping at him. Trusting his coverage is clearly going to be an area where he needs to grow. That said, the Seahawks played some great defense with a handsy cornerback named Brandon Browner back in the day. The biggest ask of Flowers from the team will be to stay on top of his receivers and never get beat over the top.
It was a hard game to watch for much of the night, made far more tolerable by hanging out with the fellas on the live podcast. We will probably do that again next week, and I recommend you all join us for that. Wilson looked sharp. Carson looked terrific. The offensive line looked decent. If those three things prove to be true in the regular season, this offense could be pretty good. The run defense was good. The safety play looked decent. There were signs the pass rush could be better than expected once guys like Frank Clark return. If that proves true, this defense could be around league average. If the offense is good and the defense is league average, the Seahawks are in far better shape than most expect. I am eager to see them against better competition.