Programming note: Thanks for your patience. Just got back from camping today.
Losing has rarely felt so good. Seahawks fans can breathe just a bit easier now after seeing the level of play rise across the board in the 14-13 loss to the Chiefs. There is still plenty of room left to grow, but the pile of boulders blocking the path the team’s potential was moved aside as the offensive line played above expectations in their first game together. Seattle is set up well to address the parts of the game that were subpar. Nobody will remember this game a few months from now, but it represented a meaningful mile marker toward reaching a championship level of play this season.
Oh that offensive line!
The lead into last week’s game notes is just as applicable now as it was then. Thankfully, the headliners earned that spot with a performance that deserved a standing ovation. Garry Gilliam faced one of the most fearsome pass rushers in the NFL, and he pitched a shutout. In fact, he was the best tackle on the field. He was beaten once in pass protection, but otherwise played stellar football. He did an admirable job in the run game as well, sealing his player inside to create a big hole just as he did last week.
Justin Britt did a nice job inside, even if was not the standout performance Gilliam turned in. In fact, the vast improvement at right tackle and left guard made everyone look better even though the individual performances were mixed.
Russell Okung picked this game to put out his worst performance in ages. He gave up pressure and whiffed on run blocks. J.R. Sweezy was his usual self, and Drew Nowak looked passable. The center position remains a question mark.
Do not be surprised if Britt eventually makes his way over to center. Both Tom Cable and Pete Carroll mentioned Britt’s experience at center unprompted last week during interviews. If the team winds up spending the money on veteran Evan Mathis (unlikely), Britt could slide to center. Alvin Bailey also played the best he has all preseason, so he may push his way back into the equation.
Run game to come
You may be wondering how I could give such a glowing review to a line that was often overmatched in the run game. Even Carroll mentioned that in his postgame press conference. Run blocking relies heavily on chemistry and timing. Once this group gets some more time together, they can improve on that. If there is one aspect of line play that I trust Cable to figure out with whoever he has in the lineup, it is the run game.
As we have discussed here repeatedly, he has trouble with pass protection, so seeing such a major step forward there is far more important to the team’s potential.
Passing game can emerge
It was clear that Russell Wilson came into this game with strict instructions to get rid of the ball immediately. He looked rushed at times early, and who could blame him after witnessing the pass protection from a week earlier. His comfort level increased as time went on, and the trust he started showing the line turned into quality completions.
The team also was behind schedule on most downs due to the meager running game. That made for a lot of 3rd and long situations. Wilson started off 0-3 in those 3rd and 6 or longer moments, but finished two for his last three, and also had a nifty 21 yard completion on 2nd and 18 to Jimmy Graham.
There were plenty of good signs. Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett and Graham were catching passes within the rhythm of the offense. Give the team another week of practice with this renewed confidence in their line play, and some really good things should happen.
Defense played hungry
So much attention was paid to the offensive line last week that a relatively disappointing performance by the defense in terms of pass rush was overlooked. This group has what it takes to take over football games. They were significantly better against the Chiefs.
Michael Bennett was an absolute monster. He was a few yards into the backfield on almost every play. He blew up run plays, harassed the quarterback and caused general mayhem. He played with regular season intensity. Bennett does not get enough credit for the effort and leadership he displays week in and week out.
Brandon Mebane looks rejuvenated. His belly roll was back after a sack, and he teamed nicely with Ahtyba Rubin to plug the middle. Rubin did not play great against the Broncos. He showed far more encouraging signs this week, including shedding some blocks and pinching down on running backs to stack them up.
I thought DeMarcus Dobbs quietly had a nice game. He is a great special teams player, and could figure into the backend of that line. I also continue to like what I see from T.Y. McGill, and if the injury to D’Anthony Smith (broken rib) is going to keep him out a while, McGill could get a shot to prove he can stick.
Linebackers for days
Bobby Wagner was everywhere, including the Chiefs endzone after a pick-six. As good as he was, though, K.J. Wright was better. He was flying across the field and picked up two tackles for loss in limited playing time. His backup, Kevin Pierre-Louis, matched his team-high tackles total of six and had a tackle for loss of his own.
It didn’t end there. Brock Coyle played a strong game in relief of Wagner, and Tyrell Adams had some great run stuffs with the third stringers. Eric Pinkins played well on special teams and was blatantly held on a pivotal play late in the game that got the Chiefs out of the shadow of their endzone.
This crew has youth, health, talent and depth. It is the best position group on the roster.
Seattle was missing 11 players from their secondary, including seven cornerbacks. They were forced to play two guys they just signed this week. To go into another team’s stadium and hold the starting quarterback to a 67.1 rating with that sort of skeleton crew in the defensive backfield was a major accomplishment.
DeShawn Shead was forced to play corner, as he has done in a pinch before, and had a nice game. His ability to play anywhere from edge corner to nickel corner to either safety spot, while also being a quality special teamer makes him close to a lock for this roster.
Dion Bailey played fine, but was late to the play on most occasions. He seems a bit like a wild hair out there. I’m not convinced he is playing within the framework of the defense yet. Russell Martin, on the other hand, looked polished and tackled splendidly. He definitely helped himself.
Other young players of note
Alex Singleton had his second straight strong outing, making a nice tackle on special teams
Cassius Marsh was a better performer this week against the run than the pass. That is not necessarily a bad thing.
Julius Warmsley showed some nice push and got a nice sack
It was a shame about Kona Schwenke’s knee injury. He has looked promising as a developmental tackle prospect
There is definitely more to playing running back than running the ball, but Rod Smith still looks far more promising as a featured runner than Thomas Rawls to my eyes
Kudos to Christine Michael for blocking well in this game
Jesse Williams did not show up in the stat sheet, but he was in the backfield a fair amount and drew a holding call. Nice game for the big guy
Far more good than bad
If that was the baseline performance for this newly formed offensive line, there is plenty of reason for optimism. Gilliam looked like a better pass blocker than Britt all week in practice, and he carried it over into the game. Britt seemed at home on the interior of the line, and should get better.
Only the guys in that locker room know if communication issues between Britt and Okung contributed to the bad outing by Okung. My read is that it was an off night for the team’s best lineman.
The team can now prepare with some confidence heading into their most important preseason game against San Diego. They get an extra day since the game is on Saturday, and will only be traveling a short distance. Things are setup well for the offense exit that game with some confidence.
The defense will welcome back Richard Sherman, Will Blackmon, Tharold Simon and Marcus Burley. We will have a chance to learn more about who the coaching staff has the most confidence in for what is shaping up to be the most competitive group on the roster.
Coaches deserve recognition for acting swiftly and smartly to address a glaring weakness on the team and players deserve a tip of the cap for adapting and embracing the changes. Onward and upward.