Seahawks football is back. Bask in its glory (after you finish with Usain Bolt’s glory). The Seahawks showed signs of dominance early, but had some important deficiencies that should warrant at least minor concern. All anyone will talk about this week is the quarterback position. There were a number of other story lines worth exploring.
Despite the focus on quarterback play, the offense is based on a solid running game. The team ran the ball extremely well without Marshawn Lynch and without starting right guard John Moffitt. Leon Washington averaged over five yards per carry in his brief stint, and it looked like any of the backs could have done about the same. The offensive line was creating massive running lanes, and did so with more consistency than we saw even during the productive stretch in the second half of last season. The performance came against the Titans starters. Running the ball with that type of productivity and consistency leads to dominant football. Nothing is assured after a couple of series, but this was a promising start for the running game.
The most disappointing aspect of the game was the lack of pass pressure. This defense will be great, even if the pass rush remains similar to last season. It will not, however, be elite. It will not be able to effect the great quarterbacks like Brady, Rodgers and Stafford. Seattle had no sacks, and no quarterback hits until late into the fourth quarter. The Titans employed a quick pass game for much of the first half, with few drops of more than three steps. Baseball fans out there can liken this to the equivalent of a pitcher using a slide step to deter base stealers. Seattle did the same thing, but the Titans managed to net two sacks anyway. Heralded rookie Bruce Irvin was a non-factor. Chris Clemons was a non-factor. Jason Jones made some plays against the run, but did not impact the passing game. This was not the team I saw throughout training camp. There may be some solace to be found in the fact that the Titans yielded only 24 sacks last season, good for second in the NFL. Seattle’s next opponent, the Broncos, gave up 41 sacks. It is too early to make any conclusions, in any event. Irvin and Clemons were never on the field together. There were no pressure packages put in. The most creative things we got were a few line stunts. Still, I was hoping Irvin would flash, and he did not.
Now, the main event. Russell Wilson played very well. Wilson is a natural playmaker who commands the huddle and can make every throw. The touchdown to Braylon Edwards was a great example of his willingness to take some risk and give his receiver a chance to make a play. His only bad play was the shocking interception in the end zone. I need to watch the play again to see what happened, but it was the worst throw I have seen from him in the past month. It was so out of character that it makes me think something went awry. The more concerning aspect of Wilson’s performance was his tendency to roll to his right on almost every play. These were not designed roll-outs. He showed this tendency in college as well, and mostly got away with it, but it will become a serious issue if he does not defeat it in the pros. Defenses can work to take that side away from Wilson, or more likely, gladly remove half the field from him. The challenge with rolling out is throwing across the field is difficult and wrought with hazards. That makes half the field largely inaccessible. Wilson happens to excel throwing on the move, but the team worked a lot with him on throwing from the pocket in camp. It looked like his instincts took over in the game, and he reverted a bit. It is a tough balance to strike because his athleticism is a major attribute, but he simply cannot be that predictable.
Matt Flynn did everything he was asked. The game plan was heavy on establishing the run, with a number of high percentage passes. If all anyone saw was this game, they would come away thinking Flynn is a game manager that plays it safe and Wilson is the explosive big play guy. Ironically, a big part of why Flynn has outpaced Wilson and Tarvaris Jackson in camp is he has proven his aptitude for making the big play. His yards per attempt has to dwarf the other two quarterbacks through camp. He was not given the opportunity to display that last night. To his credit, he did not force it. He took what the defense gave him, and moved the team confidently down the field. I will watch again to verify, but on first glance, I only saw 2-3 times where Flynn had more than a three-step drop. It was almost as if the coaches wanted to see if this player who grew up in a wide open Green Bay system could demonstrate the discipline necessary to play within this one. His two incompletions were a drop by Anthony McCoy that hit him in the numbers and an interception. It was uncharacteristic, like Wilson’s, and appeared to be caused by a linebacker who made a correct guess on the play and dropped way back beyond where Flynn expected him to be. Still, that cannot happen.
The conversation all week will be comparing two quarterbacks who played in incomparable situations. Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Brandon Browner patrolled the Seahawks secondary early in the game. They eventually gave way to Jeron Johnson, Winston Guy, Jeremy Lane and Coye Francies. Judging play against one group has almost no efficacy when projecting how the same person would play against the other. Not to mention, the Titans starters are not as talented as Seattle’s to begin with. Add to that what appeared to be a completely different game plan in the second half. Wilson had more deep drops and plays designed to go down field in his first series than Flynn did the entire first half. Some will read these as excuses for Flynn, or a bias against Wilson. They simply are factors that must be considered.
Seattle is lucky to have Wilson on the roster. He is showing potential that should excite every Seahawks fan. He is not too short to succeed. He has a fabulous arm, a great make-up, and can create plays with his feet. He is also not the right person to be Seattle’s starter in week one. He will push Flynn all season, and be one of the most popular back-up quarterbacks in franchise history. Every sub-par game Flynn has will have people burning up sports radio phone lines demanding Wilson get on the field. Flynn is good enough that those moments will be infrequent. Flynn is a great fit for what Seattle needs this year. The players know it, and I think the coaches do as well.
Many will be expecting Wilson to get a turn as the starter next week against the Broncos. If the goal is have the most equitable competition, that is what should happen. If the goal is to give the team the best chance to win early in the season, Flynn should get another start. He was given a chance to work on a particular part of the offense this week with back-up receivers. Robbing him of the chance to repeat the week as starter with an expanded game plan and additional weapons hurts the team. The quarterback competition is great theater, but make no mistake, every day the decision is not made is hurting the eventual starter. That is not what is best for the team. Wilson can play 2-3 quarters against the Broncos, just as long as it is not the first.
A few quick hitters before my wife kills me for writing too long this morning:
– Edwards helped himself. Ben Obomanu and Deon Butler did not get many chances and did not make a strong impression.
– Bobby Wagner played the whole game. I need to watch the game again to look for nuances, but he seemed to play well enough. Nothing spectacular.
– I will be dedicating a post to why Anthony McCoy is a lock to make this team, and why you should be happy to have him despite the drops. I continue to think this team keeps four tight ends.
– Greg Scruggs continues to impress, and is pushing for a roster spot.
– Phillip Adams looks to have the inside track on making the roster as a reserve CB, in part, because he can play inside and outside. Coye Francies is purely an edge corner.
– Don’t sleep on Heath Farwell. He’s a special teams ace, and will make it easier to let go of Barrett Ruud if he keeps showing up at middle linebacker this way.