The Morning After: Broncos Beat Seahawks, 31-14

Anyone that missed the Seahawks blowout loss to the Broncos yesterday can watch the first four minutes on replay and see the storyline that played out repeatedly the rest of the game. Although, that first drive may have represented to largest number of consecutive passes from Matt Hasselbeck that went to his teammates, and also the rare 3rd down stoppage by the defense. Surrounding those beacons of hope were the types of mistakes that threatened the drywall next to my recliner. John Carlson ran a poor route where he turned outside as Matt threw it beautifully inside where no defenders could be seen for miles. Stacy Andrews has a false start on the 1-yard line. Somewhere, Bill Leavy nodded as Sean Locklear had a real holding penalty on a 6 yard TD run by Forsett. Hasselbeck followed that up with a double mistake of making a terrible throw, and making it to Champ Bailey’s side of the field. Pete Carroll inexplicably decided to put Walter Thurmond back for a punt. Thurmond proceeded to field it inside his 10 (cardinal sin), fumble it, miss a second chance to grab it or knock it out of bounds, and eventually lose it. The defense then allowed the Broncos to score a TD on 3rd and 10. By my count, that is 11 significant mistakes in the first four minutes of a road game. Amazingly, the team still had a chance to make a game of it all the way into the third quarter, but mistakes continued throughout the game to seal the defeat.

Give the Broncos credit for taking advantage of Seattle’s mistakes, and for a sound offensive game plan that the Seahawks will likely see more of in coming weeks. Most notably, the Broncos double and triple-teamed Chris Clemons which seemed to surprise the Seahawks and left them with a neutered pass rush. Part of that was due to a conservative defensive game plan that was consistently dropping people into coverage. It appeared the Seahawks thought they would be able to pressure with four down lineman and drop most into coverage to slow down Kyle Orton. They were wrong on both counts. The inability of Mebane, Cole and Bryant to collapse the pocket against a makeshift offensive line was a major reason the Broncos converted an astounding 14-20 on 3rd down. Many will point to the nauseating game from #8 as the reason for the loss, but the lack of push from our defensive line was just as much to blame.

This offense is a work in progress. It will need the defense to deliver performances like the one last week against SF in order to be competitive. Look at a team like the Ravens or Jets. Their offenses are often anemic, but the defenses look very much like what Seattle’s did last week. They stonewall the opponent all game from anywhere on the field. No yard is surrendered without a fight. I thought I saw indications in the Minnesota pre-season game and the SF game last week that this Seahawks defense was ready to make a surprising move into the upper echelon of NFL. Even this week, there were signs of strength. The Broncos averaged 1.7 YPC, for a total of 65 yards. That included multiple goal line stands. Unfortunately, the second Broncos TD came against a head-scratching three down lineman from the 2-yard line. I will never understand that call. Expect to hear the coaches talk this week about building on the success at stopping the run two weeks in a row.

The linebackers and secondary has a mostly negative game as well. Lofa Tatupu, in particular, stood out by his absence. Aaron Curry was the best of the worst, at least making some plays in the backfield. Kelly Jennings looked a lot like Kelly Jennings. Marcus Trufant’s completely unnecessary pass interference on 3rd down after the Seahawks had pulled to 17-7 was the final application of grease on the ramp to nowhere.

The offensive line was a surprising strength. They contributed more than their share of terrible penalties, but also kept Matt upright and cleared some major running lanes. Stacy Andrews is an upgrade if he can stay still before the ball is snapped. Close your eyes and picture Chester Pitts at LG and Russell Okung at LT. That’s a potentially badass group, and that’s something to get excited about. Julius Jones proved he still has dirty pictures of the coaching staff by getting into the game while Justin Forsett was once again delivering over 5 yards-per-carry to Jones’ 3.0. Every carry Jones gets kills a little bit of my soul.

Before jumping off the Mike Williams bandwagon, be sure to remember he was facing Champ Bailey. The game plan very clearly was to stay away from Bailey, and involve the other receivers on the team. Deon Butler had a fantastic opening drive, but was soon forgotten. Deion Branch played a solid game, and even Ben Obamanu did his steady thing that included a nice TD.

Golden Tate was the breakout performer. His reception, much more than his punt returns, serves as a good reminder of what kind of weapon he will be. He flashed his great body control and imaginative run after the catch. His punt returns did not leave me feeling good about his chances to repeat them in the future. He is indecisive on his initial return path, dancing around laterally. Most decent special teams crews will slam him for minimal gain. He does show a knack for staying on his feet after contact. Both of his returns were sparked by the coverage team relaxing as he appeared to be going down, only to regain his balance and leave them all sprinting after him.

Hasselbeck played poorly enough that people were tweeting for Whitehurst by the second quarter. Three picks deserves that kind of scrutiny. Matt was pressing. He needs to prove that he can make wise decisions without Holmgren chaining him down. He needs to bounce back strong.

The game ended up following my predicted “losing” storyline almost to the letter. The media will vacillate between telling us that the Seahawks aren’t as good as their SF game indicated and that fans shouldn’t get too bent out of shape about the first road game of the year. Both are partially true. This will end up being among the most winnable road games the Seahawks play this year, even with the expected team improvement over time. Expect more of the unexpected from this team unless one of the units can start to repeat a performance week-to-week.