The Morning After: Seahawks depth unimpressive in loss to the Broncos 21-16

Logo by Kevin Gamache, Hammerhead 

I hate losing. Losing a pre-season game means little. Losing the battle at the line of scrimmage means more. The Seahawks were run on and could not run. They gave up sacks, but had just one of their own. A staggering 17 players, including 4 of the 5 starters on the offensive line, missed the game. That is nearly 20% of the roster. Some that did suit up, like Percy Harvin, essentially sat out. Still, the bar is high, and the team did not reach it in their first live action of the new season.

Keeping perspective

The 13 out of 22 starters who did play meaningful snaps played reasonably well. Denver had one 60-yard touchdown drive that required 14 plays and ended with Peyton Manning averaging 6.0 yards per throw and the Broncos runners averaging 2.5 yard per carry. It was greatly aided by a five-yard encroachment penalty on 3rd and 9 that helped the Broncos into a conversion that keyed their slow crawl down the field. 
Many fans and beat reporters noticed that Manning was throwing to Demaryius Thomas with Byron Maxwell defending him, and concluded that Maxwell was being “picked on.”  I am sure Maxwell would say he could have played better, but it would be a big overreaction to say he played poorly. You can be sure that if this was a real game, the defense would have had a far more focused plan to defend Thomas. They would have adjusted coverages if he continued to get open. Maxwell would have played more press. And even then, Thomas is a damn good receiver and Manning won the MVP by setting all sorts of records. They are going to complete a few passes. All of them were in front of Maxwell. None of them featured yards after the catch. That is Seahawks football. 
The offense was barely functioning due to the line personnel. Alvin Bailey got beat early by DeMarcus Ware. Justin Britt and Caylin Hauptmann got beat often. There was no room to run at any point in the game. Russell Wilson managed to move the team down the field for a touchdown despite the deficiencies, and could have had an easy first down on the first drive he could have made a more accurate throw or Zach Miller could have snagged a pass that glanced off his hands. 
Tarvaris Jackson did his thing by moving the team quickly downfield for a field goal in the second quarter. Despite Denver playing their defensive starters longer than Seattle, and the Seahawks having a series of personnel issues, Seattle led at halftime. 

Talent pool looks more shallow

The third string of the Seahawks in 2013 and 2014 were a big part of why they went a combined 8-0 in pre-season. Just last year alone saw the likes of: Will Blackmon, John Lotulelei, Stephen Williams, Allen Bradford, Antoine Winfield, Winston Guy, Ron Parker, Chris Maragos, Kyle Knox, Ty Powell, Rishaw Johnson, Mike Person, Sean McGrath, and Jaye Howard. All of those guys were on an NFL roster last year (or in the case of Winfield, could have been if chose to play). Some of them started. They were second and third string, sometimes even fourth string players. It almost did not matter what happened in the first or second quarter of a pre-season game because the Seahawks roster depth overwhelmed opponents in the second half.
One way to look at yesterday’s game was that so many players were out, the guys that filled in had an unfair task of playing against higher level competition. Another would be that this was an opportunity to stand out, and very few managed to. There is validity to both perspectives. A few guys did help themselves, but early indications are that the very bottom of the roster contains less talent than in past seasons. 

Players who helped themselves

QB Terrelle Pryor

This was the best Pryor has looked. He was so inconsistent and inaccurate early in camp that it was hard to take him seriously as a quarterback. Not last night. He was poised and flashed a strong arm alongside some beautiful throws. He had the team in position to win the game and made a mistake, but he did so many things well that it easily was a winning night for him. It looks like he may be crossing over from wannabe NFL quarterback to legitimate starting prospect. 

DT/DE Cassius Marsh

Marsh was the guy in the game that he has been in practice. He got a sack rushing from the inside with a beautiful swim move around a helpless guard, and should have had a second one rushing from the edge. He added a tackle for loss in what was a very encouraging start to what may be a critical find in the draft. The team will need to see Bruce Irvin back to know where they most could use Marsh, but I continue to love what he does on the edge.

LB Brock Coyle

Coyle was a perfect example of a guy taking advantage of his opportunity. He was the most physical defender on the field Thursday night. His tackling was sound and his play against the run is starting caliber. This guy may not see the field during the regular season, but could step in and be a contributor if needed. Coyle is firmly on the roster right now, and is the best new linebacker on the team.

WR Paul Richardson

Richardson is fast. He is also a darn good receiver. He ran a couple nice slant routes, and went low to make the catches. He also flashed the yards-after-catch ability I saw early in camp. Durability is the only question about this draft choice.

RB Demetrius Bronson

Bronson ran hard and ran effectively inside. That is worth recognizing on a night when none of the other runners appeared to find the same space. He has very tough path to a roster spot, but is becoming a consideration for the practice squad.

WR Phil Bates

Bates looks more and more like one of the receiver crew, and not a guy fighting for a roster spot. His end around was a small play, but this was a guy who the team tried at fullback last year, coming around the end at a cornerback. Couple that with his abilities as a receiver and a blocker, and he appears to have graduated from the practice squad.

TE Cooper Helfet

Helfet is another practice squad player who is getting a chance to do more with Anthony McCoy’s injury. He had a 20-yard catch and did a much better job blocking than he has in previous years. That is the part of his game that needs to show clear improvement to beat out RaShaun Allen and Morrell Presley, who also played nice games.

LB Mike Morgan

Irvin, Malcolm Smith, Korey Toomer and K.J. Wright would all probably be above Morgan on the strongside linebacker depth chart. Yet Morgan had some very nice moments against the Broncos starters. His best play was shedding two blockers to make a great stop. 

CB A.J. Jefferson

Jefferson had a nice interception and played heady football throughout. He is putting pressure on the younger corners who either did not play or played poorly. 

Players who need to do more

CB Tharold Simon

Simon was ejected for punching a player. He has not proven nearly enough to skate by with less than a quarter of playtime. This defense is not only talented, but they are smart. Simon missed a chance to show he belonged.

DE Jackson Jeffcoat

The undrafted free agent with all the college sacks has not looked sudden enough to be an edge rusher in camp, and looked out of his depth as a linebacker in the game. He needs to find something he does really well soon.

T Alvin Bailey

Bailey was overmatched by Ware from the start. He appeared to find his footing, but it was a disappointing performance.

G Caylin Hauptmann

Hauptmann was beaten in pass protection a few times and had trouble creating a push in the run game. He did have a nice block on the near-touchdown run of Christine Michael.

G James Carpenter

You have missed enough games Mr. Carpenter. 

RB Christine Michael

Christine Michael ran the way Tom Cable wants him to. There was no freelancing, but there was also no push or holes from his offensive line. Michael’s big questions were around discipline in the run, pass blocking and ball security. He showed the discipline, but made a mistake in pass blocking with an illegal chop block and fumbled the ball. He needs to do better. He will do better.

No excuses

Every NFL fan likes to talk about the players who were injured. Broncos fans love telling you who was missing during the Super Bowl and how the game would have been completely different if those guys were out there. That is how losers talk. Seattle is now a championship team. The early 2000 Patriots literally set records for how many injuries they weathered. There was an aura around that team that nothing could keep them from victory. 
This group of offensive lineman for the Seahawks cannot appear to stay on the field. We can talk about it being a pre-season game, and for a guy like Max Unger who sat out with a slight hamstring issue, that is probably fair. Carpenter deserves zero leeway. He needs to be playing in every practice and every game. Russell Okung needs to prove he can play a whole season. That unit as a whole needs to get their act together right now. Yes it is the preseason, but the hits Wilson took last night were no less violent than they will be during the season. 
Expect to see some starters return to the field over the next two weeks. We know they are good. What I will continue looking for is whether this rookie class has enough talent to keep this train chugging along. Whether it be injuries this year, or free agent defections in future years, the Seahawks need this young talent to prove they belong.

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