The Morning After: Seahawks Fans Nearly Utter Safe Word Before Late 23-21 Comeback
What people do in their bedrooms is their own business. What they do on the football field is everyone’s business. Anyone involved in the first three quarters of that game last night between the Raiders and the Seahawks had to feel dirty and ashamed. If lewd and lascivious is something you know when you see, we all saw it last night. Forget having a face only a mother could love. Even Mother Teresa would have put a bag over this monstrosity. Those who stuck around to the end, though, were treated to a brand of gritty football that awakened memories of the 2013 squad who often outlasted opponents after horrific starts. There was the Texans comeback that year, the Bucs comeback, the 14-9 game when Golden Tate taunted the Rams and Brandon Browner broke up a pass in the endzone as time ran out. People remember the 2013 squad as dominant. More than dominant, they were the ultimate grinders. This team, even through their depth, is starting to show that same trait.
Physical struggle that Seattle won
The Raiders and Seahawks defenses took turns smacking around their opposing offenses. The defensive lines were overwhelming at times. Oakland’s young linemen, in particular, were impressive in their physical play and stature. These were huge men that seemed to tower above the Seahawks second string line to bat down a number of passes and apply constant pass pressure. The Raiders have something interesting going on with the line depth. That makes me wonder if the quality of that position group will lead to some good defensive linemen hitting the street after final cuts on Saturday.
Seattle’s first string offensive line only saw a couple of series and largely stalemated with the Raiders. The second string line was totally overmatched. Jahri Evans made a few mistakes. J’Marcus Webb had at least one communication breakdown. George Fant whiffed here and there. Rees Odhiambo had his hands full as well. It really wasn’t until the third stringers for both teams made it out there that the game turned.
The Seahawks front seven played a heck of a game despite getting nothing from their offense. It was fitting that a defensive player scored the game’s first touchdown when DE Ryan Robinson picked off a Connor Cook pass and took it the house. That was followed by two straight touchdown drives by the offense, led by the running of Troymaine Pope and Alex Collins. More on those two in a bit…
What struck me watching the fourth quarter of this game was how the Seahawks were absorbing body blows for much of the game and delivering a few of their own before truly taking the fight to the Raiders. Oakland players were either unwilling or unable to stop the pounding running game at the end.
The running back conundrum
Pete Carroll and John Schneider have a very difficult decision to make in the running back room. They preach open competition and that being drafted won’t protect your spot. By those principles, there is no doubt that Troymaine Pope has done more to earn a roster spot that Alex Collins. In fact, with 52 more yards on 8 carries last night (6.5 YPC), Pope finished as the Seahawks leading rusher in the preseason, beating Christine Michael by 5 yards. He was the 7th leading rusher across the NFL this preseason despite having just 24 carries. Five of six players in front of him had at least 10 more carries. He averaged a remarkable 6.8 yards per carry over his four games.
Pope made meaningful plays including the game-winning two-point conversion in Kansas City, a late TD and two-point conversion versus Minnesota that nearly led to a comeback victory, and a key touchdown late against the Raiders. He also returned a kickoff 60 yards to set up the Seahawks first points of the game. Oh, and his 33 yard run on the Seahawks final drive last night setup Collins’ touchdown.
There is no doubt that Pope has done everything he could to take advantage of his opportunities. He also piled up all these numbers against third string defenses featuring a number of players who will never make an NFL roster. That’s not his fault. It is a reality that will be factored into the front office decision.
Collins has become the guy fans love to pick on. They complain about his lack of burst or wiggle. They complain about the times he has been unable to break tackles in the backfield. I see a guy who had indisputable production at a big-time school against big-time competition and who has shown more than enough potential to give Schneider and Carroll pause about letting him loose. For all the great things Pope has done so far, he will never be taller. That alone makes him a guy less likely to be claimed by another team. Collins was a draftable talent. Seattle has seen Spencer Ware go on to become a quality player for the Chiefs. Collins could absolutely do that if he were to be let go.
He had his own 20 yard run last night and looked solid. The smart money still would be on Seattle keeping Collins and letting Pope go with a potential practice squad spot on the horizon. Even then, it’s not clear the team needs another running back on the practice squad. This will be a tough one no matter how it goes down.
Open call for backup QBs
Trevone Boykin was pretty darn horrendous last night. It was not so much that his numbers were bad, which they were. It was that he looked overwhelmed by the speed of the game and had trouble making good decisions or stemming the tide. One thing Russell Wilson always had was poise under pressure. Boykin flashes some of that, but looks like a deer in headlights more often than Wilson ever did. Of course it is unfair to compare this undrafted rookie to one of the game’s great quarterbacks. It also is part of the equation when you are gunning to be the backup QB on a Super Bowl contender.
I have consistently mentioned in my roster projections that the Seahawks could look to add a veteran backup after roster cuts and stash Boykin on the practice squad. Nothing about that scenario changed last night, except perhaps it became more likely.
Figuring out the secondary will be tough
There was a time when people wondered about whether Marcus Burley would make this team. That seems pretty darn silly right about now. Burley has been consistent in his play all preseason both in coverage and on special teams. He had two nice pressures and QB hits on slot blitzes last night as well. The top corners right now appear to be Richard Sherman, DeShawn Shead, Jeremy Lane, and Burley.
Tharold Simon is a lock to make the team, but his play has been far from encouraging this preseason. He has been a penalty waiting to happen with his hands all over receivers even when it was unnecessary. His man coverage has been ordinary at best. He seemed to look more locked in last preseason before his injury than he does now. The team will definitely keep him due to his unique size and strength and upside. He has also played meaningful snaps in the past and had some quality starts. It just looks like he has a lot more work to do.
Tye Smith came into camp as a guy to watch entering his second season. He has done nothing positive that I can recall. His coverage has been lax. His tackling has been weak. Even his special teams performances have been underwhelming. I have had him making the roster so far, but am having real doubts about that now.
I expected the final two secondary roster spots to be a battle between Smith, Steven Terrell and Tyvis Powell heading into this game. Keenan Lambert forced his way into that discussion last night after finishing with a team-leading 12 tackles and making some nice plays on special teams as well. If the team decides to keep five CBs and five safeties, I would expect Terrell will get one spot and the other would be a decision between Powell and Lambert. The team has really like Powell, but he has not been able to sustain the great performance he had in the first game. Lambert may have the edge.
Smith will only win the spot if the team decides to hold onto six corners due to the value of that position. He certainly has not earned it.
Other late challengers for a roster spot
Brandin Bryant was a guy I had my eye on early who generally underperformed during the preseason. The team had him covering punts and kicks last night, all 290 pounds of him. He drew a holding penalty on kick coverage and made a tackle on punt coverage. He also showed a great motor in trying to chase down a screen pass late in the game. This was a good showing for him. It is unclear if he did enough to snag a spot.
Kache Palacio had a really nice game at linebacker. He finished with 7 tackles, a tackle for loss, a forced fumble and fumble recovery. Palacio has shown great quickness and instincts and has the makings of a good special teams player. I only have the team keeping six linebackers right now, which would mean he would not make the cut, but it’s possible the team could decide he is more valuable in special teams than one of the secondary players and steal a spot from that part of the roster.
Justin Hamilton has had a really solid preseason and continued that last night with a sack. The numbers don’t really add up for him, but he could be a guy that finds a home elsewhere.
Ryan Robinson had a couple flash plays, including the pick six. He probably has earned a spot.
Guys who will be nervous on Saturday
Jordan Hill apparently tweaked his hamstring again in this game. The team could decide to stash him on IR, which would give them the opportunity to bring him back later in the year if they wanted and open up a spot for another player they do not want to lose. Most of the beat reporters have him making the team anyway, which is reasonable. I just get the feeling Carroll may be done with Hill’s inconsistent availability and lack of production.
Kasen Williams could not make it back for this game, meaning he more than likely will not make the final cut. He is a probable practice squad guy. Tanner McEvoy also did not play, but he has done more to earn a spot this preseason than Williams and could get that fifth receiver position. Douglas McNeil would be the other contender (Kenny Lawler is not a legit special team player) who could sneak in there.
Seattle finished the preseason 3-1 and made terrific progress in the areas that matter most like the offensive line and young player development. This team will enter the season with the largest influx of young talent since 2012. We could see as many as 12 or 13 rookies make the roster. Their key players are primed and ready. Their running game looks lethal. The passing game will be improved. I cannot remember the last time the Seahawks entered the preseason with such fundamental question and answered them so emphatically. There have been moments where one player at one position has done that. This year saw the offensive line, running backs, tight ends and interior defensive line all prove they will be strengths of this team instead of question marks.
The links in the chain are stronger than they were the last two seasons. This group has more than the unbending will of the core players to lean on. The combination of young talent and focused elite veterans sets up a scenario where the Seahawks should start strong and finish even stronger. Fans have become used to seeing rocky starts with disjointed units like the offensive line last year that the coaching staff then develops into a cohesive whole by year’s end. Imagine how this offensive line, who is already better than what they finished with last year, will look by the time the season winds down. Imagine how Jarran Reed and C.J. Prosise and Nick Vannett will develop.
You won’t need to imagine much longer. Game time is coming.