The Morning After: All Systems Go as Seahawks Beat Chiefs 26-13
Evidence continues to mount that this Seahawks team is poised for one of their best seasons. While far too many are wringing their hands about one missed block or one missed player, the team is putting together one of their most complete and dominant preseasons. Facing their second straight top ten defense from a season ago, the Seahawks offense put together one scoring drive after another while piling up over 220 yards in the first half, not allowing a sack, and showcasing two bruising runners who averaged over five yards per run. Their starting defense allowed just three points, and that only came after a highly questionable penalty on fourth down allowed the Chiefs drive to continue. Special teams allowed a kick return touchdown and a blocked punt, but also held the Chiefs to negative yards on punt returns and saw their resurgent kicker connect on all four of his field goals. This team feels like a rocket ship doing its preflight check. Their launch into the stratosphere is imminent.
The offense shines
You are more likely to have heard critiques of the Seahawks offensive line, or Jermaine Kearse, or the team’s rushing attack than to have heard that this group is by far the most productive NFL offense this preseason.
The most surprising number up there may be leading the league in passing offense. Compare that to last preseason when the team was already showing signs of ineptitude. The year before, they were at just 120.8 passing yards per game in the preseason. Their preseason best during the Russell Wilson era was 232 yards passing per game in 2013. Wilson appears to have taken the next step in his evolution that many of us have been waiting for. No player was more impressive Friday night than the Seahawks quarterback. He remained efficient, explosive, and accurate. He made a major leap in training camp a few weeks ago and has carried that certainty of play and production.
His passes are coming out quickly and decisively. One great example of his growth came on a nondescript play where, on 2nd and 10, he made a short throw to Kearse for a five yard gain. It was exactly the kind of play Wilson often eschews in favor of scrambling and looking for a larger gain. Taking the easy five yards there set up a far more manageable third down. That maturity is one of the key characteristics that separates young quarterbacks from more savvy signal callers.
Wilson, though, was far from a dink-and-dunk passer against the Chiefs. He was dropping dimes all over the field from a variety of angles and depths. He finished with five completions over 20 yards on the night and over 10.5 yards per attempt. The much maligned Kearse was one of the stars of the game with three catches for 59 yards, including a gorgeous 39 yard reception early on. Jimmy Graham made his presence felt for the first time this preseason with a bruising 30 yard catch over the middle.
All of this was complemented nicely by a powerful running game led by rookie Chris Carson (8 carries for 46 yards, 5.8 yards per run) and Eddie Lacy (4 carries for 21 yards, 5.3 yards per run). Carson added another 44 yards receiving as he continues his climb up the depth chart. Thomas Rawls and C.J. Prosise sat out. Many are expressing their frustration at Prosise’s fragile nature. Not me. Both Rawls and Prosise are great talents who can add a lot to this offense. The difference between this year and last year is that the team will not miss a beat should they have to miss time due to injury. Lacy has been the bell cow before, and can do it here. Carson may be the best of the bunch, and I would not lose a second of sleep over the thought of him starting for this team. That’s not even bringing up the promise of J.D. McKissic, who showcased his versatility by rushing for 46 yards and 6.6 yards per run last night. We know how good Prosise and Rawls can be when they are right. It should be easy to hope for their health, without fretting about it, given the team’s newfound depth at the position.
Tip of the cap to offensive line
The George Fant injury was considered a catastrophe by some. Rees Odhiambo was hopeless. The sky was falling. They may prove right. I have gone on record as saying that while the Fant injury was both sad and a big loss, it would not derail the season. If Fant was a 3 out of 10 last year as a left tackle, I saw him as a 5 or 6 out of 10 this year. He was becoming an adequate starter, but was far from dominant or special. Odhiambo was a third round pick last year, and unlike many linemen drafted by the Seahawks, he was pretty universally lauded by scouts and analysts. He subbed for Fant multiple times last season and the offense functioned well enough to score on drives when he was playing. A reasonable hope is that he can be a 3 or 4 out of 10 left tackle who might be a little better than Fant was last year, but not as good as he was going to be this year.
He was better than that against the Chiefs. His pass protection was solid most of the night, and the decisive passing by Wilson helped reduce the time the Chiefs had to create pressure. The big mistake came on a play when he thought he was supposed to kick out to block the linebacker, and let his assigned man knife straight into the backfield for a sack on Wilson. Not good. Assignment mistakes can be corrected, and should get better with more snaps in practice and experience in games. More noteworthy were the multiple time Wilson has plenty of time in the pocket to scan the field and let deep patterns develop.
Where Odhiambo struggled more was in run blocking. Both he and left guard Luke Joeckel were underwhelming in that regard and could make the team very right-handed in their rushing attack. Even there, timing and coordination could improve the results with more reps together. Odhiambo is going to make mistakes. He is going to give up sacks. All players not named Walter Jones do. If he can approximate what he did against the Chiefs, the Seahawks offense will be just fine.
Lost in the doomsday predictions about the left tackle position is the pleasant development of Germain Ifedi on the right side. I will admit my expectations for his performance over there have been subterranean. He has started to exceed them to the point that I may need to reevaluate his potential as a tackle. Even when he was awful in pass protection over the last year, he has always been a powerful run blocker. I mentioned some of his great blocks last week against the dynamic Vikings defensive line, sealing the edge for big gains on the outside. There was more of the same this week. The combination of Ifedi and either Oday Aboushi or Mark Glowinski is promising in the run game. Many of the big runs last night happened behind those guys.
Ifedi was more than a road grader. His pass protection was a little better than average. As just one data point, look at the pass protection grades he has received from Pro Football Focus through preseason:
vs Chargers -3.4
vs. Vikings -1.6
vs. Chiefs +0.2
That aligns with the progress my eyes are seeing during the game. Wilson is playing so well, and his weapons are so lethal, the line just needs to be below average to enable production. Their performance this week at least makes it possible to consider they could be better than that.
Situational play not as impressive
The two areas the offense deserves some criticism for was their play in the red zone and on third down. They finished just 1-4 in the red zone and just 4-13 on third downs. They moved the ball enough and benefitted from solid defense to where it was not their undoing, but this game should never have been as close as it was. For as great as Wilson has been so far, his most regrettable throws have come in the red zone. He was nearly intercepted on one throw, and failed to give either Graham or Doug Baldwin a reasonable chance to haul in scores on two other throws. He has not yet mastered the fade. His attempts are often too low, causing his receivers to reach over and in front of their defenders instead of above their heads. Both Kasen Williams and Graham have proven they can go up and get the ball, but their advantage is vertical. When Wilson gets the ball placement right there, his touchdown rate will jump.
Defense solid, but below their standards
This was a game where the starting defense only allowed three points, but it felt less dominant than that. The Chiefs ran the ball effectively and carried Seahawks defenders for a lot of yards after contact. Pete Carroll brought it up as the thing he was most disappointed in after the game, pointing to pad level being the major issue they would need to go back and correct. The interior line was shoved around, with rookie Nazair Jones having his worst game thus far and Ahtyba Rubin struggling as well.
The Chiefs also dropped at least five passes that would have made for a very different game had even a few of them been caught. Jeremy Lane got the start opposite Richard Sherman, and played adequate football. He was not noticeably better than Shaquill Griffin has been, but the team may choose to go with experience to start the year.
One area I continue to monitor is the play of Michael Bennett. I mentioned that he appeared a step slower in training camp, and have not seen much to change my opinion during the preseason. I am holding out hope that he is conserving his energy for the regular season, but he may also be declining. His role in this defense is crucial, so the hope is he will return to form once the lights come on in a few weeks.
There were a number of interesting developments on the roster watch.
Jones started the game over Jarran Reed. The rookie did not make the most of his chance, but it was noteworthy nonetheless
Kasen Williams played well on special teams again, Tanner McEvoy caught a few passes including a beautiful touchdown, Kearse played a great game, and McKissic continued to handle all the return duties while showing off as a great option out of the backfield. Amara Darboh was targeted twice and caught no passes. He made no plays on special teams. Kearse is a lock. That makes four locks, and two spots likely available. Williams has the inside track on one of them. Are you really going to keep Darboh and cut both McKissic and McEvoy just because he was a third round pick? Some people have suggested they keep seven receivers. That would mean cutting either Marcel Reece or Prosise or Rawls or Carson or maybe a lineman. It is hard to see them going that route. Seattle is headed toward a very tough decision.
Deandre Elliott missed the game due to injury. That could cost him a roster spot. Tedric Thompson is another draft pick who has not shown much, but the team will always be inclined to give their draft choices the benefit of the doubt. That would mean cutting a guy like Elliott so they could have five safeties.
David Bass had another sack and had two tackles for loss. He has done everything the team could ask for to earn a roster spot. Marcus Smith also played another nice game. I continue to expect both of those players to make the final roster. Quinton Jefferson played his second straight solid game. He could make a late push and cause the team to think twice on Smith or Bass.
Forecast is sunny
The four areas I highlighted this offseason where the Seahawks needed to improve were: running game, turnovers, explosive plays, and special teams. It is looking like each of those areas are going to be improved, with only takeaways being a question mark. They have gone beyond my list, though, and added what appears to be the most productive passing game we have seen in Seattle in some time. The plays are repeatable, and are coming against quality defenses. Wilson is making it look easy. The depth looks not just capable, but special. Most importantly, the mentality feels healthier than at any time since the Super Bowl loss.
The great Seahawks teams of 2012 through 2014 had an aura of inevitability about them. It was more a matter of how they would crush your will, not if. This group finally feels like the grown-up version of that squad, where wisdom meets talent to form a troublesome cocktail of doom for opponents. Cling to skepticism if you must. Beware, though, you risk missing something rare and special, like belittling an eclipse because you do not have the proper glasses necessary to see its true form. Teams like this do not come around very often. Embrace the moment.