Preseason is not the place to draw any conclusions. Thank goodness for that. The Seattle Seahawks looked more like a team in rebuilding mode Saturday night than one developing elite depth to support elite starting talent. The three big areas to watch coming into the game—offensive line, pass rush, and Christine Michael—all were underwhelming at best. Anyone who thought the Seahawks offensive line was terrible the past few years got a reminder of just how crippling a truly bad line can be. There were thankfully a couple of meaningful bright spots in what was mostly a troubling first game.
Oh that offensive line
A perfect example of preseason versus regular season football came on the Seahawks first possession when Justin Britt was left alone to block Von Miller. During a normal game, the Seahawks might have had a tight end on Britt’s side or conceived of a more quick-hitting pass play to lessen the burden on their young right tackle. Instead, they chose a more basic approach that also helped them judge where Britt is on pass protection. The result: strip sack and turnover.
Britt will never be a great pass blocking tackle. He is not quick enough or balanced enough. The goal for him is improvement after ranking dead last in the NFL last season among right tackles in pass protection, according to ProFootballFocus.com.
Tom Cable has his work cut out for him. Not only is there some teaching that must occur, but he has never proven the ability to either value or teach pass protection at the NFL level. I wrote last year about his blind spot. He still has never coached a line that ranked better than 15th in the NFL in sacks allowed.
Allowing seven sacks last night did little to offer evidence of any progress. A lot of that damage came against the second team line. In particular, right tackle Jesse Davis was way out of his depth. He allowed at least two sacks, and as many as four. I have yet to see him block anyone in pass protection. The fact that he was the second string right tackle shines a light on just how thin that spot is, and how bad of a draft pick Terry Poole might be.
Poole came in as the third string right tackle and similarly struggled against lesser competition than what Davis faced.
Before you feel like the walls are closing in on the Seahawks season, step back and focus on what matters the most. Seattle went to the Super Bowl with J.R. Sweezy, Russell Okung and Justin Britt as starters. Britt and Sweezy gave up sacks. They have a tendency to do that. It is nothing new, and Seattle has won a lot despite that tendency.
The new guys, Lemuel Jeanpierre and Alvin Bailey were not a disaster. Jeanpierre had a false start, and there were almost certainly areas to improve, but the new guys were not the ones looking overwhelmed.
This will remain the key area to watch as the preseason continues. The Jimmy Graham trade brought an immense talent to the offense, but also removed the most stabilizing force on an uneven offensive line. Graham will only be able to help this team if the line is able to show significant growth before they face an immensely talented Rams defensive line in the season opener.
Christine Michael loses his last fan
The allure of Christine Michael was obvious in his first training camp two years ago. He operated at a different speed than any other player on offense for Seattle, and led the NFL in rushing yards in the preseason. He showed a propensity for the explosive play, and could threaten a defense as a runner or as a receiver.
The few chances he has had to carry the ball during the regular season continued to support the notion that he could be the rare 5.0 or greater yards per carry back. His career YPC mark is at 4.9, where a guy like Robert Turbin checks in around 4.0. Marshawn Lynch had one season at 5.0 YPC, but is a career 4.3 YPC player.
Michael will never be the power runner that Lynch is, but should produce more yards with equivalent carries, largely due to more explosive plays. A 15-yard run from Lynch might be a 40-yard run with Michael’s speed and elusiveness.
None of that matters if Michael cannot hold onto the football. He fumbled the ball at least twice in the preseason last year, and did it again in the regular season. I went on-air with Softy before last nights game and said the one thing Michael could not do was fumble the ball. He fumbled.
It was the last straw. If Michael does not care enough about his profession or his team to solve his fumbling problem by year three in the NFL, then he does not deserve to be here. It is inexcusable that this is still an issue. The implication is that Michael lacks attention to detail, work ethic, and recognition of what it takes to be great. Such a shame.
Immediate returns from 2015 draft class
Return game. Check. Tyler Lockett showed everyone just how improved the Seahawks return game should be this year with a nifty 18-yard punt return and a scintillating 103-yard kick return for a touchdown. He was one of two clear stars in the game for Seattle, and he did not even get the chance to show off what he can bring as a receiver.
As exciting as Lockett was, the play of Frank Clark may prove to be more important. Clark is a player who relies a lot on his strength and ferocity, more than speed. Those attributes are harder to showcase in limited contact practices. This game offered the chance to see how his skills translated into a full contact game, and the results were very encouraging.
Clark led the team in tackles with nine. That is unheard of as a defensive lineman. He also forced a fumble on his first play and stuffed a fourth down run. His development has direct impact on what options Seattle has for keeping guys like Michael Bennett, Jordan Hill and even Cliff Avril fresh.
Clark mostly played 5-technique defensive end, but also played inside. Look for him to get more chances against opponent starters through the rest of the preseason. It is just one game, but early indications are that John Schneider has drafted his first impactful defensive lineman since joining the Seahawks front office.
Tye Smith has been burned repeatedly in camp. If a player is streaking open down the field for a long catch, it has often been with #22 trailing. Smith got plenty of chances last night and played a nice game. He broke up a couple of passes, and supported against the run well.
Other young players of note
T.Y. McGill has some nice moments on the interior of the defensive line, especially in the second half
Alex Singleton had what appeared to be a really nice game after being re-signed the night before
Dion Bailey had some punishing hits, but it was hard to tell if he was cleaning up for other people’s mistakes in coverage or his own
Kevin Smith had a couple of nice catches and also played well on special teams
Rod Smith got limited snaps, but continued to look promising as a runner
Thomas Rawls had a nice touchdown reception. I still do not see the potential as a featured runner that others do.
Ronald Martin made a nice break on a ball that he nearly intercepted
Jimmy Staten had some nice moments in the middle of the line
Jesse Williams played longer than expected and recorded a tackle
Mixed performance for Marsh
Cassius Marsh has had my attention since last year in training camp. The question with him is whether he is a Four A player. For those that do not follow baseball, Triple A is the minor league team just below the majors, and a Four A player is a prospect that can dominate Triple A competition but is not good enough to be productive in the majors.
Marsh makes Jesse Davis look bad in practice, but as we saw last night, so does everyone else. Marsh had two sacks in the preseason last year, but had not yet established whether he could be an impact player against top NFL competition during the regular season before he got injured.
He is back to looking dominant at times during practice. The first blush analysis of his game against the Broncos was that he looked more like a role player than a future starter. Marsh can be valuable to the team if he can get 3-5 sacks as a rotational edge rusher. That still feels like a realistic goal, but it would be nice to see Marsh show productivity against starters during the preseason.
Anthony “Iron Hands” McCoy
Memories of dropped passes flooded back for Seahawks fans who watched Anthony McCoy drop multiple passes last night. He was wide open and the passes hit his hands each time. For a team that had just 26 yards of offense in the first half, each drop was painful.
McCoy had drop problems back in 2011, but mostly overcame them in 2012. This game does not doom the talented McCoy from making the roster, but he would be wise to catch every pass that touches his hands from here on out.
Injuries and their ramifications
Chris Matthews sprained his shoulder trying to recover a fumble on punt coverage. Pete Carroll was predictably non-committal about the severity of the injury after the game. Should it be serious, it could have a ripple effect on the roster as Matthews is expected to be one of the guys to break camp with the team.
Since Matthews has already practiced, he would not be eligible for the PUP list. The team’s only choice would be injured reserve, which would require him clearing waivers. That is a dicey proposition as the team found out with Michael Bowie last year. It might be more likely that the team keeps Matthews around even if he cannot play the rest of the preseason, but that could require keeping an extra receiver as part of the 53-man roster to start the season.
That would likely be good news for Ricardo Lockette and/or Kevin Norwood. It may also impact a guy like BJ Daniels or Kevin Smith, who both played well last night as receivers and on special teams. Kasen Williams has come on as of late, but last night did not offer any opportunities. The competitive receiver position just got a bit more competitive.
Tarvaris Jackson also was injured, and the prognosis was not clear there yet either. The team would probably go with R.J. Archer as their backup, but will possibly bring in a veteran for a tryout if the Jackson injury is serious.
A lot of work lies ahead
Carroll was more somber in his postgame press conference than usual. It seemed pretty clear that he was disappointed with what he saw, and for good reason. The state of that offensive line is a direct barometer on the state of the team.
Carroll’s entire philosophy is built on running the ball and protecting the ball. Neither looked promising last night. Injuries occur regularly on offensive lines, and there was not a lot of positive to take away from the young players behind the starters, although Garry Gilliam played a nice game at tackle.
Cable is going to have a lot of teaching tape he can use from this game, and it is realistic to expect a step forward in the Seahawks next preseason game. They will face a premier set of edge rushers again.
The game against Denver put an even finer focus on the areas of this team that require the most work. It also offered some validation for young players who appear to be ready to contribute right away as rookies. There is little doubt about the talent Seattle starters flash. Outside of the offensive line, the rest of this preseason will be about finding additional players who can add to the mix and be factors.