Mike Holmgren used to always say that to win a championship, you needed your best players to play their best. Seattle did not have all their best back on the field Friday night, but the ones they did have were more than enough as the starters raced to a 24-0 lead in the first half before giving way to still-suspect depth players. Bobby Wagner, Malcolm Smith, Kam Chancellor, Bruce Irvin, Michael Bennett, Russell Okung, and Max Unger did not dress for this game. Marshawn Lynch only played a couple of snaps. It did little to quell the seemingly inevitable onslaught that occurs each time Russell Wilson and the Seahawks step on the CenturyLink field.
The offensive line looked untenable against the Broncos last week. Run blocking was bad. Pass blocking was worse. Not only were key players missing, but the men who stepped into their shoes did not look ready for the responsibility. Backup offensive lineman may not seem all that important, but on a team that features players like Okung, Unger and Carpenter who have spent long stretches on the sideline with injuries, having viable backups is crucial. Friday night was considerably better.
Carpenter returned and had a strong game. He missed a block in pass protection early that resulted in the lone San Diego sack of the night, but that was the only glaring mistake I noticed. Justin Britt played so much better. He got pancaked on one pass rush, but held up well otherwise. The overall line play was so improved that an honest assessment must consider the quality of the competition. This was not a good Chargers defense. They were 23rd in yards allowed last year and 31st in opponent yards per play. They were one of the league’s worst defenses, and they did not look all that improved against the Seahawks. It is always better to judge line play after re-watching the game a few times, but even with a suspect opponent, the coordination and physical play across the line was light years ahead of last week.
One of my favorite plays was on Christine Michael’s first carry (which he unfortunately fumbled), Alvin Bailey locked onto his man and blocked him ten yards down-field. This, from a guy who coaches say the only question mark about is his run blocking.
Good line play helped pave the way for 144 yards rushing on 24 carries (6.0 yards per carry) by five different running backs. The quarterbacks added 99 yards and four touchdowns on 13 carries (7.6 YPC). Terrelle Pryor ended the night as the second-leading rusher with 59 yards and a Nintendo-like 19.7 YPC thanks to a 44-yard touchdown run. The quarterback run stuff is nice, but the running back numbers that came within the offense are what really matter.
Robert Turbin had his best game in over a year. Forget the 81 yards and the big 47-yard run. He broke a few tackles and pushed the pile. He will never be a guy with great lateral quickness who can make defenders miss, but he should play with power. It is often absent from his game, but it showed up in this one. As well as Turbin played, he did little to change my assessment of his potential. When his line creates holes, he can use his speed and strength to gain yards. If a play breaks down, or you want a player to find yards an average back could not gain, Turbin will disappoint. There are worse things than being called a good backup running back. That is what Turbin is.
Michael made more out of less. He averaged 5.6 YPC compared to 6.8 for Turbin. However, Turbin averaged only 3.1 YPC on on his 11 carries that did not include the long run. Michael reached the edge to gain yards Turbin would not have. Had he been in for the play where the line opened the massive hole for Turbin to run down the sideline, Michael very well may have taken it the distance. Give these two players the same amount of carries in any game, and Michael will nearly always end up with more yardage. His questionable ball security will keep him off the field if it does not get addressed immediately. Turbin is great in this area. Pass protection has been another question about Michael, but he had a very good game in this regard on first blush.
Wilson was marvelous. He was in total command, and even as I cringed seeing him play so much, his control over the action greatly diminished the chances of injury. He was efficient on third down and accurate with his passes. He is the ultimate judo quarterback. Apply heavy pressure and he will make you pay with a scramble. Commit to stopping the Seahawks run game, and he will pick you apart through the air. He will use your energy against you, and do it with an effortless smile along the way.
Pryor was the talk of the game with his eye-popping athleticism, and deservedly so. He is a special athlete. He also did little to help his case as worthwhile backup quarterback. Yes he can scramble, but can he be an efficient passer? He was just 1/4 for 10 yards through the air. Although, to be fair, one incompletion came on a dropped pass by Cooper Helfet. The signs of progress for Pryor will come in the form of the ball getting out of his hands sooner, passing to secondary and tertiary reads in his progression, and showing the ability to repeat throws.
I still expect Tarvaris Jackson to make the team. He is a guy who could lead this offense far into the playoffs if necessary. Pryor has a far higher ceiling, but is not consistent enough or careful enough to maximize offensive efficiency. He is a free agent after this season, so keeping him around to develop him does not make a ton of sense. Letting a guy with this much talent walk probably makes even less.
Defensive line depth issues
The offensive line showed some encouraging signs from backup players. The secondary saw some decent play from Tharold Simon and Jeron Johnson. The linebackers were pretty bad after the first unit left. That can be explained by the absences of Smith, Wagner, Irvin, and Korey Toomer. Three of those guys are due back this week, which should have a similar impact that getting Okung, Unger and Carpenter back did for the offensive line. But the defensive line…there is a real problem there.
Bennett, Brandon Mebane, Kevin Williams, Tony McDaniel, Cliff Avril, O’Brien Schofield, and Cassius Marsh have all either proven or flashed starting caliber talent. Greg Scruggs is playing okay. He had a sack last night, but has looked more like an occasional rotational player than a guy who could step forward if he got more snaps. Benson Mayowa had a decent night last night with a sack, and is clearly the best of the rest. His front-line ability is still not clear. That is really it. Jordan Hill has been injured and unimpressive when playing. Michael Brooks is a similar story. D’Anthony Smith has been a run stopper who is not stopping the run. Jesse Williams is out for the year. Jackson Jeffcoat is now a below-average linebacker instead of a rush end. The depth, especially in the middle of the line, is concerning.
Irvin’s return will help here as he is another nickel end that provides more depth. But the hard truth is that Scruggs, Hill, Williams and Brooks have not lived up to expectations so far as young, impactful interior lineman. Finding a promising young defensive tackle is going to be a glaring priority in next years draft.
A few individual player notes
Kevin Pierre-Louis has an uneven first game. He finished with 5 tackles, some of which were impressive sticks against the run, but he also made some mistakes in coverage and missed some tackles.
DeShawn Shead followed up a disappointing first game with a disappointing second. I had higher hopes for the young safety. His tackling and coverage have both been subpar.
Terrance Parks won’t make the team, but don’t sleep on him for the practice squad. He shows up in practice and is a promising special teams player. He had a nice game.
Phil Bates only got one target and made the catch. He has to do more to beat out special teams ace Ricardo Lockette. That is tough to do on a team that only passed 19 times versus the Chargers.
Brock Coyle played the run well again. I need to watch the game again to see how much of the Chargers passing yards came in his areas of responsibility.