The Morning After: Seahawks Show Progress In Key Areas, Beat Chargers 16-15

The Seahawks starting offense has yet to score a touchdown. Pete Carroll admitted his frustration, a rarity, following the game. It would be easy to ring the alarm bells. It would also be misguided. Key parts of the offense showed needed progress, while the defense and special teams demonstrated their ability to win a game without a lot of points from the offense. This is shaping up to be a more complete team than the one that went to the Super Bowl last year.

Offensive line plays well

The question heading into last weeks preseason game against the Chiefs was the ability of this newly configured line to pass protect. They did well in that regard, but exited with questions about their run blocking. This week, without the services of their best player in left tackle Russell Okung, they showed continued progress.

Seattle averaged 3.1 yards per carry and totaled just 71 yards on the ground against the Chiefs. They finished with 117 yards rushing on 4.2 yards per carry against the Chargers. Add Marshawn Lynch and Okung to that attack, and there is plenty of reason for optimism.

Pass protection continued to be much stronger. Here is one simple measure of progress:

Game 1 vs Broncos: 7 sacks, 13 QB hits
Game 2 vs Chiefs: 2 sacks, 2 QB hits
Game 3 vs Chargers: 2 sacks, 5 QB hits

The starting line only gave up one of those two sacks against the Chargers, and the player responsible for that sack was Alvin Bailey, the guy subbing for Okung.

Did they fail to convert some short yardage opportunities? Were there some missed assignments that caused problems? Absolutely. Did the line play well enough to allow the offense to succeed? They did.

Garry Gilliam played a really nice game at right tackle, and J.R. Sweezy had his best game of the preseason. Drew Nowak played well enough, although Lemuel Jeanpierre appeared to play a bit better. Justin Britt whiffed on at least one run block that led to a loss, and Bailey had some nice run blocks that were obscured by his poor pass protection.

Fans rightfully want to point a finger somewhere for the sputtering offense. The offensive line is an easy scapegoat. It just is not the right one.

Russell Wilson struggles

Russell Wilson had a well formed pocket for most of his throws Saturday night. He had time to go through his progressions and look down the field. There were plays to be made, and the Seahawks trigger man simply failed to make them.

He overthrew a wide open Jimmy Graham on a seam route. He overthrew Graham again in the red zone. He missed Jermaine Kearse on an out route. He threw behind Graham again before the half. We could turn this into a “what’s wrong with Russell?” session, but to what end?

Wilson has proven that he can be an accurate passer. None of the throws he was asked to make Saturday are ones he has consistently struggled to make during his career. Either we are to believe that all-of-a-sudden Wilson can no longer be the player he has already been, or we chalk it up to a bad performance in the preseason. The latter seems significantly more likely.

Wilson has yet to throw a touchdown in the preseason. That is true. If that is the measure of projecting regular season quarterback success, these other signal callers should be worried:

  • Peyton Manning
  • Eli Manning
  • Philip Rivers
  • Aaron Rodgers
None have thrown a touchdown during the preseason, and I’m pretty sure their coaches are not too worried about it. If the thing the Seattle offense needs to start humming is for Wilson to play like himself, there is reason to take a deep breath and be confident that goodness is around the corner.

Pass rush shows up again

All the consternation about the offense distracted people from what was a pretty encouraging defensive performance. The Seahawks played Philip Rivers and the Chargers early last year and managed just one sack through the entire game. They sacked Rivers twice in the first half Saturday, and harassed him a number of other times into hurried throws.

Rivers is a master of taking the short throw and getting rid of the ball quickly. It is not easy to put pressure on him when he is dinking and dunking down the field. Jordan Hill, Mike Morgan, Frank Clark, and Bruce Irvin all got in his face. Steve Terrell also smacked Rivers on a third down safety blitz to force a field goal.

Kris Richard is starting to show his personality with the increased blitz calls. I have been curious to see if he was going to be more like Gus Bradley, who was also a secondary coach, and rely on zone defenses that protected the deep ball. Dan Quinn was more aggressive, and that suited the attitude of these players. Richard may prove to be even more aggressive than Quinn.

That could be really fun given the array of pass rushing talent on this defense. It could also compromise the integrity of a group that prides itself on limiting big plays. Fans and players love to blitz, but it is high risk, high reward. Seattle has been a historically good defense without blitzing very often, so Richard will need to prove he can pick his spots.

Secondary begins to take shape

Richard Sherman was back to his customary spot. Cary Williams continued to man the spot opposite of him, and players like Marcus Burley, Tharold Simon and Will Blackmon all returned. It was a tough evening for Blackmon, who got burned repeatedly by Stevie Johnson.

Simon looked strong in coverage in his first appearance of the preseason. Strong enough that he will only fan the flames of competition with Williams who got burned a couple times by Keenan Allen. Simon, though, was among a few players responsible for losing contain on a 42-yard reverse in the second half. Physically, he looks superior to Williams. The experience gap is still enough to keep him at bay for now.

Nickel back will be a tough call. I lean toward Burley for now given his core special teams role. That position will not be a strength on this defense.

The idea of playing without Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor for even one game has been the worst nightmare for Seahawks fans. This secondary, and the front seven, deserve some credit for playing pretty darn good football for three straight games with two inexperienced safeties and a M.A.S.H unit at cornerback. Holding Rivers and company to six points in the first half is nothing to scoff at.

Special, indeed

Tyler Lockett electrified the sidelines again with his second return for touchdown in three games. Players were tweeting about it in droves after the game. This kid has that star dust sprinkled on him. Having a player like that is going to go a long way toward helping the offense have shorter fields to work with, and sometimes no field at all.
He is unlike any returner I have watched before. His approach is like that of a running back. He shows patience and field vision and sets up his blocks wonderfully. Guys like Devin Hester and Deion Sanders relied on straight-line speed. Lockett has that, but the return last night was a great example of how it is only part of the package that makes him so special.
Lockett was not alone on what was a terrific special teams night. Cassius Marsh forced a fumble and made a couple tackles. The Chargers averaged 8.0 yards on three kick returns and 7.0 yards on four punt returns. Jon Ryan had three punts inside the 20, and Steven Hauschka made a 60-yarder to win the game. 
Getting this group back to one of the best in football makes this Seahawks team far tougher to beat.

Other young players of note

  • Marsh had a very nice game defending the run even if he struggled in pass pressure
  • Dion Bailey supported the run well again, but continues to look like he is not in the right places for pass coverage. 
  • Brock Coyle had a heck of a game. This kid is just a natural football player.
  • Kevin Smith showed off his speed and skills as a return man. Practice squad seems likely for this guy
  • Kasen Williams had a nice clutch catch

Trust the process

Carroll and his coaches have been steadily building toward the regular season. It has not always been pretty. It has even been ugly at times. There are some things, though, that we already know that many are mistaking for things we need to see. We know Wilson is a productive NFL quarterback who has been highly efficient in his three years. We know Jimmy Graham is an otherworldly tight end and red zone threat. We know what Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse and Marshawn Lynch can do. The fact that they are not producing in the preseason should do nothing to reduce confidence in their ability to do what they have consistently done for years.

That is why the offensive line has been the focus. If they were to look miserable, as they did in week one, that would be a reason to question whether the skill players could perform up to their standards. This is not an all-star group of lineman right now, but their performance the last two games has been very encouraging. They proved they could protect the passer against one of the most ferocious pass rushing teams in the NFL last week, and came back to show they are starting to gain some rhythm in the run game this week without backsliding in pass protection. The most faulty part of the line was a player who is not expected to play (Bailey). 

Thomas and Chancellor have been missing and the defense has been pretty darn good without them. The pass rush appears to be far stronger than last season, with a more aggressive coordinator. That should lead to more turnovers once the regular season begins and the dogs are unleashed. You can bet the team has some creative ways to utilize their myriad of pass rushers that are not being shared on preseason film.

The special teams could be the best of the Carroll era. It should round out a team that has incredibly high standards across every unit. Preseason is riddled with illusions. Focusing on the real parts of this team that will be relied upon to win games that count reveal a far different picture than the gloom and doom perception permeating popular opinion. 

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