The Morning After: Vikings Beat Seahawks, 20-7

CenturyLink Field hosted its first game Saturday night, and it was not all that different than Qwest Field’s first game.The Seahawks christened Qwest Field in 2002 with a 28-10 loss to the Indianapolis Colts. The loss, though, was not what bound these games together. That 2002 Seahawks team featured a young right side of the offensive line made up of RT Floyd Womack and RG Floyd Wedderburn. Trent Dilfer and Matt Hasselbeck were harassed into 33 sacks as that line struggled all year long until veteran RT Chris Terry was signed and stabilized things enough for Hasselbeck to finish the season in one of the strongest stretches of his career. The Seahawks reminded fans last night that the team is not only starting the year without an established starting quarterback for the first time since 2002, but with perhaps the least stable offensive line since that same time frame.

Sure, the Seahawks have trotted out some horrible offensive lines the past few years, but pass protection has not been the major source of trouble. Remember 2007, when Mike Holmgren famously abandoned the run completely because his line could not gain a yard on 3rd and 1 to save their lives, but was able to protect Hasselbeck on his way to his last Pro Bowl appearance. Pass blocking takes years of coordination, discipline and talent. Many of the worst hits on quarterbacks come because of mistaken assignments, as opposed to players being physically beat. Rookie RT James Carpenter showed that for the second time this pre-season when he doubled an inside rusher while an outside player ran free straight at the quarterback. The English game of football has a term called a “hiding,” when one team blows the other one out. The first half of the Seahawks game against the Vikings was the American equivalent of a hiding, only here it means the quarterback was spending an inordinate amount of time trying to hide from defensive players in his backfield.
There is no quarterback on the planet that can succeed with the kind of “protection” Tarvaris Jackson received Saturday night. I will be surprised, when I re-watch the game, if there were five clean pockets for him to throw in over the course of the entire half. One of the most shocking stats of the night was zero QB sacks in the first half for the Vikings. The people calling for Charlie Whitehurst to be the starter should rejoice that he wasn’t on this night because his funeral services would have been scheduled by now. Whitehurst got one big hit on him in the second half and nearly didn’t get up. That was one of the few pressures after halftime.
The state of Seattle’s QB situation is so dire that a guy like Whitehurst, who once again averaged 5.1 yards-per-attempt, is the source of a fan-fueled QB controversy. Thankfully, Pete Carroll continues to throw water on that fire by saying Jackson will be the starter, period. Did Whitehurst make some good throws? Yes. Did he show some progress as a QB by going through his progressions and improvising (especially on the TD to Anthony McCoy)? Absolutely. Is there any valid way to compare Whitehurst’s performance to Jackson’s? No way. The Vikings called off the dogs in the 2nd half and the Seahawks offensive line protected far better. Jackson did better than anyone could hope for given the constant pressure, but he did nothing to convince me he is a better QB than he has been throughout his career. Nobody can credibly argue for  Jackson anymore than anyone can argue against him. The silliness of arguing about this position at all cannot be overstated, but I’ll tackle that in a separate post.
The overall 49-31 pass-to-run ratio doesn’t make any sense for this coaching staff. The Seahawks commitment to passing the ball even in the face of all that pressure seemed to indicate Darrell Bevell and Tom Cable wanted to work on passing plays and pass protection. As painful as it was to watch, and to quarterback, it was a valuable experience for that new line. There is tons of great tape to learn from. The line also blocked better when they did run, leading to an improved 3.7 yards-per-carry (when you remove the Josh Portis and Jackson scrambles). 
Even with the poor showing by some of the lineman, the goat of the game was second-year WR Golden Tate.  He was given yet another chance to be a contributing member of this receiving corps. Instead, he was a bigger asset to the Vikings than the Seahawks as he dropped two balls, including one right into the hands of the Vikings that was returned for a TD. Carroll appeared to be sending Tate a message by keeping him in the game all the way into the late 4th quarter when the 3rd stringers finally got out there with a couple minutes to go. No other starters played in the 2nd half. Rookie WR Doug Baldwin outplayed Tate, even though he only had two catches for 14 yards. He ran solid routes, got good separation and even had better kickoff returns. 
The receivers, as a unit, did not have a great game. TE Dominique Byrd is forcing his way onto the roster, McCoy did a nice job blocking and receiving, and rookie WR Kris Durham had a decent first game. Pat Williams may have been the worst receiver out there with four targets and zero receptions, including a horrible drop late in the game. 
Leon Washington continued to be the most productive runner early in the pre-season. Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett got almost zero forward motion, with Lynch getting less than a yard-per-carry. Vai Taua was a new face, and flashed as a potential one-cut runner that would do well in this system. He will be one to watch.
The defense played well against a limited Vikings offense. Despite being down 7-0 after one quarter, the Vikings had three yards of offense. Donovan McNabb led the one credible drive the team had when they went from their own 1-yard line and victimized Kelly Jennings and Aaron Curry. Curry was also to blame for the Vikings other “drive” where he gave up 15 yards for a colossally stupid penalty for ripping an opponents helmet off and tossing it away. This was not the first time Curry pulled crap like that, and he chooses to do it at times when the opponents are beating him and his team. It’s immature and embarrassing. I love tough guy stuff and intimidation, but Curry is tone deaf in both. Start making some intimidating plays, and then you can start pushing people around. Until then, consult the Bible you constantly are sending out verses from on Twitter, and tell me where it says your behavior is righteous. 
Rookie Jeron Johnson got time opposite Earl Thomas in nickel situations, with Josh Pinkard playing slot CB. Jennings inexplicably started another game. Brandon Browner outplayed him again. How much more does the kid have to do? Rookie Richard Sherman played solid coverage most of the night. He only got beat badly on one play, and was lucky that Joe Webb overthrew his receiver. Sherman really needs to work on getting his head around when the ball is in the air. He is going to get a bunch of pass interference penalties and/or allow receivers to pluck balls out of the air behind Sherman’s back. New safety Atari Bigby got time on special teams and as 2nd string safety behind Kam Chancellor. Bigby was late reacting to multiple plays in the secondary. Time will tell if that’s the player or just shaking the rust off with a new team and system. 
The defensive line played well enough. Adrian Peterson was held under 3 yards-per-carry, and Raheem Brock applied consistent pressure. He was pretty much the only player getting near the passer. The defense only got 3 QB hits and 1 sack as a whole. Brock got the one sack and two of the three QB hits. Blitzing was not working either. 
The linebacker play was promising. Leroy Hill was solid, and rookies Malcolm Smith and KJ Wright made nice plays. Smith, especially, is showing a knack for crunching hits. Rookie Mike Morgan, Curry and Smith all made some containment mistakes that allowed some of the Vikings biggest plays. The linebackers will need to be assignment-correct for this defense to flourish. 
I need to spend some time watching the game again to focus in on players like Red Bryant, Brandon Mebane, Alan Branch, David Hawthorne, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas. Likewise, the offensive line breakdowns need some more review before deciding if anything that happened Saturday night was a harbinger of things to come or just a learning experience.
There have been some soul-crushing pre-season games that open up fans’ eyes to the hopelessness of the season ahead of them. This was not one of those games. Next week the starters will play into the 3rd quarter, and potential should come into clearer focus.
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