The Morning After: Broncos Beat Seahawks, 23-20

It has been nearly 10 years since the Seahawks had an unaccomplished quarterback and an inadequate offensive line. Any fan that joined the ride following the 2005 season has never witnessed that fatal combination. That is, until this pre-season. In a game that will surely ratchet up the anxiety levels in an already unsettled fan base, Seahawks QB Tarvaris Jackson turned in another unimpressive outing that was inextricably linked to a no-show from his offensive line.

The Seahawks showed how bad they could be on offense this year when they were unable to run or pass, and had less than 100 yards of offense through three quarters. For the first time this pre-season, we saw Paul McQuistan get reps at both RG and RT in place of rookies John Moffitt and James Carpenter, respectively. Breno Giocomini also got time in place of Carpenter. One of the only times when Jackson got something resembling a clean pocket to throw from was the only series that had both Giocomini and McQuistan manning the right side of the line. Carpenter proved that he is not ready to be left alone to block in pass protection. He was bull-rushed and speed rushed with almost equal amounts of success. Pete Carroll admitted after the game that they left Carpenter without blocking help to evaluate his ability. They won’t be happy with what they find on tape.

It would be easy to jump to the conclusion that things are hopeless. I’ll even admit to day-dreaming about a Top 5 pick next year as a consolation prize for what could be a brutal season. There is, however, a clear path to improved offensive play. When LT Russell Okung returns from injury, he will be left to pass protect on his own, unlike his replacement Tyler Polumbus. Also unlike Polumbus, he will win most of those battles. Matt Williamson of Scouts, Inc. named Okung one of the NFL’s rising stars yesterday and wrote that he could be in the mix with the Top 2 tackles in football if he can stay healthy. Having a lock-down left tackle allows coaches to game plan to assist others on the line who may need it, namely Carpenter. They can have a tight end stay in to block on that side. They can slide a running back or full back over to assist. The pocket can be shifted to the left side with rollouts. All of these things are common and effective. There is a cost for keeping in an extra blocker, which is one or two fewer receiving options. Fans may not see Jackson getting sacked as much, but they may see him patting the ball endlessly as he tries to find someone open (more on that in a minute).

Fans should expect to see a veteran tackle signed when the team cuts down to a 53-man roster. Some team in the NFL will let a credible older player go that could give the Seahawks an insurance policy should Carpenter just not be ready to go this season. Giocomini is a developing young player that will stick, but William Robinson is a guy who could get replaced with a vet tackle. Moffitt is easier to protect at guard, and McQuistan or Paul Fanaika already fill the role of veteran back-up. Mike Gibson is also a viable guard even if he is officially the back-up center.

As bad as protection was on Saturday (5 sacks, 10 QB hits), Jackson was more a part of the problem this week than he was last week against the Vikings. On at least two of the sacks, Jackson either held onto the ball too long or stepped toward the rushing player instead of away from him. It will take a review of the game to speak with certainty, but I counted 4-5 plays where Jackson was as much to blame for what happened as his line. Some will want to point out that receivers may not have been open. That may be true, but quarterbacks need to have a feel for how much time they are getting in the pocket and be sure to have the ball out before that pressure can effect the play. Throwing the ball away is always a better option than taking a negative play. Jackson does not demonstrate a good feel for timing, or the decisiveness needed to succeed. Writing Jackson off would be foolish, but these limitations have shown up in his past, and can’t be ignored just because his line is not protecting him.

Jackson played into the fourth quarter and got the opportunity to show that he can dominate 2nd string defenses just like Charlie Whitehurst. He easily moved the team down the field for a touchdown before exiting. It should be noted that drive included 29 of the team’s 58 yards rushing on the night. The talk will continue to be about Jackson and the pass protection, but what really matters is the running game. Leon Washington has earned more snaps as he looks to be the back adjusting to Cable’s blocking scheme the best, and is the more explosive player out of the backfield.

As bad as the offense was, the defense performed pretty darn well, especially considering they were without key starters like Kam Chancellor and David Hawthorne. KJ Wright started in place of Hawthorne and had an up-and-down game. He looked tentative, rarely taking a confident first step either in coverage or against the run. Josh Pinkard and Atari Bigby took Chancellor’s reps, and played reasonably well. Bigby had some nice hits. Kelly Jennings also sat out. Brandon Browner got the start instead, and played very well. He was badly beaten on one play, but Earl Thomas was there to break up the pass. Outside of that, Browner’s coverage was fantastic. He plays a lot with his hands on the receiver, which has not resulted in as many interference or illegal contact penalties as you’d expect. It will be something to watch when the regular season starts. Walter Thurmond played his first game of the year as a slot CB, and was beaten badly on a few key plays, including a 3rd and 8 that was particularly bad. It was his first game, so making any judgments would be unfair. Marcus Trufant was one of the best players on the field, getting a great sack early on and showing he is still an above average run defender at the CB position, while still playing decent coverage. Chris Clemons played in his first game and made a dramatic interception that was the highlight of the day for the Seahawks.

The most dominant player on the Seahawks defense was Red Bryant. This was the guy fans remember from last season before his injury. He manhandled the Broncos offensive line and punished running backs. Pep Livingston deserves a mention with two sacks and three tackles for loss. I only remember one of those plays, so I’ll be looking for him when I watch the game again. Malcolm Smith flashed again, collecting a sack and pursuing the ball with ferocity. Byron Maxwell was the best special teams player on the field much of the night, and was solid in coverage again. He continues to be a guy I think could be a surprise member of the final roster.

That defense, with Hawthorne and Chancellor added back into the mix, could be great. They will need to be, to make up for an offense that will struggle to score 15 points in many games. Expect the starters to get as many as three series in the last game in order to gain some confidence. Brace for lots of doom and gloom this week, but don’t lose sight of some of the key young talent that is playing well (Chancellor, Browner, Sherman, Smith, etc.) and the relatively simple corrective actions coaches can take to reduce some of the problems we are seeing.

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