The Morning After: Encouraging Signs Despite Seahawks 18-11 Loss to Vikings
The Seahawks loss to the Minnesota Vikings last night required a Master’s degree in watching preseason football to separate the meaningful from the meaningless. There will be no shortage of articles written that raise questions about the four first-half sacks and what that says about the offensive line. Tell the Truth Monday becomes Tell the Truth Friday today as Pete Carroll, Russell Wilson and this blog will explain why the offensive line arguably played an even better game this week than against the Chiefs. There is reason for real excitement about the unit that all of us had the biggest questions about. It was a game chock full of meaningful performances. Let’s get to them.
Russell plays unevenly
Nobody on the Seahawks is harder to write about than Russell Wilson. Any hint of critique unleashes a horde of near-religious followers who believe he has no faults. Praise him too strongly and a smaller, but still vocal, group of Wilson skeptics comes out of the woodwork. Here is a truth that each side has to live with: Wilson was largely responsible for two of the four sacks that impeded drives and he made some breathtaking throws.
Here is a truth that each side has to live with: Wilson was largely responsible for two of the four sacks that impeded drives and he made some breathtaking throws.
The first sack came when Wilson had time to make at least two reads before he dropped his head and oddly scrambled toward the line of scrimmage and into the arms of Linval Joseph. The play right before that saw Wilson help the team overcome a penalty with an absolute dime to Tyler Lockett streaking down the field for 31 yards. The timing and placement of that throw were exquisite. The decision to go into scramble mode on the next play was not, and effectively killed the drive.
His next drive started with Doug Baldwin tearing past his defender deep downfield and Wilson seeing it a bit too late, which led to an underthrow that allowed the defender to close ground with Baldwin and break up the play. Wilson then had time to either throw the ball to a receiver or throw it away, but pumped and held onto the ball in hopes of scrambling to find more time, and was sacked for 10 yards. It was the exact type of sack the team got rid of in the last half of last year when Wilson was consistently getting rid of the ball before pressure could arrive.
He did that splendidly against the Chiefs, but the Vikings coverage appeared to be better, and contributed to Wilson’s indecisiveness. There is reason to be excited about this offensive line, which I’ll get to in a second, but nobody should be under the impression that they will be able to regularly pass block for long periods of time. Wilson has to help them out and keep the team out of negative plays. He is smart enough and mature enough to do that. He has done it, so this just feels like a teachable moment.
The third drive ended largely due to sack that came on a blitz from Anthony Barr. Carroll confirmed that Wilson had adjusted protection but the pickup was blown, likely by rookie Alex Collins. Wilson did nothing of note, positive or negative, on this drive.
The fourth drive was shortened by tight end Brandon Williams dropping a catchable pass on 3rd down and 2 that probably could have been thrown a bit better, but definitely should have been hauled in. The final drive for the first string offense had the team in a two-minute package. A false start penalty moved the team back before they even started. Wilson could not connect with Luke Willson and then took a shot to Lockett deep that was just a bit overthrown. Facing 3rd and 15, Wilson unleashed a gorgeous timing throw to Kenny Lawler. The ball was in the air before Lawler came out of his break toward the sideline and landed in his hands just before stepping out of bounds for a first down. Big time.
The team got to a 3rd and 7 and Wilson was sacked there after his first read was not there. It was possible he could have gotten rid of the ball, but the line did not protect him well on that one.
I have every confidence that Wilson will be the dynamic player we have all come to know over the years. This was not his best performance, but it is the perfect time for that. He made some throws that show his ceiling as a passer continues to raise. That’s real, and worth being enthusiastic about.
Encouraging offensive line play
In order to put the performance of the offensive line into perspective, we first must recognize who they were going up against. The Vikings had the 5th-ranked scoring defense in football last year. ProFootballFocus.com ranked their front seven as the 6th-best in the league. Linval Joseph, one of their star defensive tackles, was named to the PFF All-Pro team as the best nose tackle in all of football, with a speciality in run stuffing. This is a super talented group with premiere players.
Seattle ran their top tailback—who is actually their backup tailback—ten times and gained four or more yards on eight of those carries. Most of those runs came right up the gut. The very first run of the game will show as just one yard gained, but Christine Michael slipped on his cut or he very likely was looking at a 15+ yard gain as the line got a terrific push and Michael saw the wide open cutback lane to his right. That means the line cleared the way for significant gains on 9 of 10 carries by the only tailback who is expected to see time this season against one of the best defensive front sevens in the NFL. Safe to say, that’s a really good sign.
The pass protection was also far better than it will get credit for. Wilson had a clean pocket most of the time. Garry Gilliam had some trouble, and it is not out of the question that he will be pushed by J’Marcus Webb. Gilliam is not quite having an Alvin Bailey moment where he completely underwhelms after showing encouraging signs in previous years, but this has been a disappointing preseason for him. Bradley Sowell appears to be the better left tackle, which says a little about Sowell and maybe a bit more about Gilliam.
This is not a flawless group. They never will be. The comparison, though, between this group now and the group we saw last year is not close. I am seeing things from this group in the run and pass game that I never saw from last year’s line. The push, against quality opponents, is superb. The amount of yards gained right up the middle is great to see.
The middle of the line looks like it can be a real strength. I have been looking at the first four weeks of the season and imagining the likes of Ndamukong Suh, Cameron Wake, Aaron Donald, Robert Quinn, Sheldon Richardson, and Leonard Williams having their way with this young line. That anxiety is waning.
Before moving on, the backup linemen deserve a shout out as well. They were not good against the Chiefs, but were much better last night. A couple guys, in particular, stood out.
G Will Pericak (pronounced ‘pre-check’)
Most fans will remember Troymaine Pope running wild in the second half. Fewer will notice that a few of the biggest runs came behind Pericak. Go back and watch the tape. Look for #75 at right guard. I think he has a very good chance of making the roster.
C Joey Hunt (pronounced ‘hunt’)
The youngster played with the third string behind Patrick Lewis, and had some nice moments in the run game.
Good night for running backs not named Alex Collins
Michael was terrific again. People can brace for a fall, but I don’t see it. He’s for real, and will become a great weapon this year. Pope came to camp late to help fill in after injuries to other runners, and has stood out from practice one. He looks a bit like Ray Rice as a short back, and has some nice wiggle. He went off for 86 yards on 10 carries, including a touchdown. Pope is a good player, but will have a heck of a time making this roster.
Zac Brooks saw his first time and did okay. He had a nice 7 yard run and made a catch. Even George Farmer looked beastly on his one run for 12 yards and his one catch for 13 yards, both with some tackles broken along the way.
Then there was Collins. Poor kid really looked out of sorts. He is a better player than what he showed last night. Instead of piling on, I’m going to leave it at that.
Trevone Boykin earns my vote for backup
Boykin made two boneheaded rookie mistakes that arguably cost the team the game. His interception was terrible and his decision to not throw the ball away and take a sack at the end of the game was even worse. I chalk all that up to rookie learning. What I saw was a young player who made considerable strides in running the offense from game one to game two, and a gamer who rises to the occasion. It really comes down to your expectations for the backup position. I think the Seahawks want a developmental player they can spend very little money on, who can step in and run the offense in a similar fashion to Wilson.
Boykin is that guy. I doubt he will be ready to truly act as backup this year, but the team can always sign a veteran backup later in the season if there is a need for one. We all know that if the backup quarterback is playing, there are bigger problems anyway. I have come full circle on Boykin and have seen enough moxie, heart, and arm talent to welcome him aboard.
Other notable performances
The former All-Pro had a mostly great game. He had 8 tackles in one half, and a couple crunching hits in the hole that were missing last season. His only blemish was getting beat on a coverage near the goal line on third down that led to the Vikings touchdown.
A few nice passes defensed and nearly a pick that turned into a great catch.
The rookie’s star is falling. He was mostly with the third string and did nothing to stand out.
The newly signed vet looked terrific, and was back to pointing at his bicep and looking mean as hell. I’ve got him making the team based on that performance alone.
Fighting for a roster spot, Burley turned in a very nice night of coverage and special teams play.
He only had one catch for 8 yards, but drew a key pass interference call downfield on the final drive. Better was his play on special teams where he was often the first guy downfield on punt coverage. He’s gaining ground.
No targets. No catches. No plays of note (or even participation?) on special teams. Let’s hope this was just easing him back in after injury. Otherwise, Williams’ spot on the roster is getting very tenuous.
The rookie made some terrific plays in run defense.
A couple flash plays from Clark included chasing down a runner from behind on 3rd and 1 to force a punt and the team’s only sack.