The Morning After: More Encouraging Signs as Seahawks Drop 24-14 Game to Chargers
Russell Wilson took the first snap, faked a handoff to Chris Carson, and then rifled a dart to a wide open Jaron Brown streaking across the width of the field for a 29-yard gain. Fifteen yards were tacked on for an illegal helmet-to-helmet hit before Carson took the next handoff around the right side for eight more yards. He then ran around off left tackle Duane Brown’s outside shoulder and burst through a few hopeless Charger defenders on his way to gorgeous 23-yard touchdown. Three plays. That was all it took for the Seahawks to drive 75 yards for what would have been their second straight opening drive touchdown of the preseason. That it was ultimately nullified for a foolish block in the back by rookie tight end Will Dissly matters less than how crisp and explosive the offense looked. They would go for 77 yards and 72 yards on their next two possessions. It is fair to criticize the offense for only coming away with six points, but many have forgotten how anemic this group was in the first halves of games last season. They had a total of 8 drives longer than 70 yards in the first half of games all last season, or less than one per game. They have four through two games this preseason, and Doug Baldwin has not even suited up yet.
At one point into the second quarter, Wilson was averaging 21.4 yards per attempt. He had the 29-yard pass to Brown, a 45-yard pass to Brown, a 52-yard pass to David Moore, and a 19-yarder to Moore. The Seahawks quarterback looks as good as we have ever seen him, maybe better. He was accurate, decisive, and in rhythm. The marriage of Wilson, entering his seventh season, and new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer seems to be going splendidly. Wilson has long been terrific off of play-action, and this offense has him running play-action on nearly every pass.
Besides the big throws downfield, which Wilson also excels at, there are plenty of targets to tight ends and running backs for high percentage gains. Pairing Wilson with Carson looks like a formidable duo. Carson continues to look like a special player. Yes, he fumbled twice at the goal line, losing one. I see that more as a good reminder for Carson to go back to the fundamentals that made him almost fumble-free in college. He is more than a bruiser. He is explosive. Seattle has not had an explosive running game since 2015. This could be a resurgent year in that regard.
The play of the receiver corps continues to be encouraging. Consider that if Baldwin and Lockett had missed time last season, the Seahawks receivers would have been Paul Richardson, Amara Darboh, and Tanner McEvoy. Brown looks like a favorite new toy for Wilson. On one set of back-to-back plays, Wilson lofted a ball deep down the left sideline to his 6’5″ target in Brandon Marshall, who drew a defensive pass interference call while being held desperately by a beaten corner, and then went deep down the right side to the 6’3″ Brown for 45 yards and another DPI call. Moore stole the show with his pair of miraculous physical catches that left him inches short of the endzone. Marcus Johnson was close on one deep throw. Damore’ea Stringfellow picked up a nice first down. Even Malik Turner kept his solid play up with a 12-yard touchdown reception from rookie QB Alex McGough.
Moore is likely battling Stringfellow and Johnson for a spot on the roster, but may even be making the Seahawks think about their commitment to Marshall. They could choose to keep their young group and move on from the veteran. Marshall has unique potential in the red zone for Seattle. My best guess is Moore, Johnson and Marshall all make the roster, but Stringfellow is right there. Keenan Reynolds remains a sleeper due to both his special teams ability and as insurance for Baldwin in the slot.
The starting offensive line played pretty well. They were better in pass protection than in run blocking, with the clear exception of Germain Ifedi. The right tackle appears no better than he was a season ago. One play saw him get bull rushed onto his backside. Many others saw him beaten any number of ways. Look for the team to start practicing George Fant at backup right tackle this week. Neither Isaiah Battle nor Willie Beavers seem capable of doing better than Ifedi. Fant may be similarly overmatched, but he represents the option with the most upside.
Making matters worse in this game was an early exit for right guard D.J. Fluker, who had a dislocated finger. In came Jordan Roos, and he was not a lot better than Ifedi. Putting both of them next to one another bogged down the whole offense. It would be nice if J.R. Sweezy could get healthy so the team could see what he has to offer. Fluker will have no problem returning from his injury, but some depth at guard would be nice.
There were definitely some rough spots, but a starting offense missing: two starters at receiver, a first-round RB, and the starting tight end, looked promising.
The defense was tougher to evaluate. Philip Rivers had no trouble marching down the field for an opening-drive touchdown. Tre Flowers was beaten badly on at least one route. Melvin Gordon found decent chunks of running room right up the middle. We talk a lot about the Seahawks pass rushing question marks, but the Seattle run defense was not good last year. They ranked 19th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed. Jarran Reed needs to be a handful for opponents if the Seahawks are to slow opponents running attacks. Los Angeles ended the game with 176 yards on the ground and 4.8 yards per rush. Not good.
It was not all bad, though. Frank Clark returned and looked dangerous rushing off the edge. Quinton Jefferson had a really strong game playing almost exclusively at the defensive end spot instead of inside at tackle. Tom Johnson finally made his presence felt with a half-sack and a couple of QB hits. Shamar Stephen showed some impressive strength on a couple of plays where he rag-dolled a Chargers lineman, throwing him to the side and making a play against the run and a play pressuring the quarterback. And then, there was Rasheem Green.
Jump aboard. The hype train is officially chugging down the tracks. Green was disruptive to the point of approaching dominance. He stuffed the stat line with another 1.5 sacks (3.0 through 2 games), 2 tackles for loss, 4 QB hits, all while leading the team in tackles with 6 (3 solo). He made plays against the run. He got to the quarterback. Maybe most importantly, it all looked repeatable. Seattle appears to have found a diamond in the draft. If Green is anywhere near the player he appears to be, he will be the best Seahawks draft choice since Frank Clark. His size, skill, youth, and playmaking against the run and the pass could make him the best Seahawks defensive linemen draft choice in a very long time.
The real question is when the Seahawks will give him a legitimate shot to start opposite Clark in Michael Bennett’s old spot. Branden Jackson started this game and was a non-factor. Jefferson played wonderfully. This should be a two-man competition between Jefferson and Green for that starting role. Green looks like the superior player. It is just a matter of when he takes over that spot, not if. That is the sound of a significant piece of the rebuilding defensive puzzle snapping into place.
Watch out for Poona Ford as well. While not as flashy as Green, Ford continued his push for a roster spot with a lot of activity, that included four tackles. Austin Calitro played a nice game at backup middle linebacker and may be giving D.J. Alexander a run for his money.
Tedric Thompson still looks slow to my eye. He was trailing players, and lacks closing speed. He may very well end up being a passable free safety. I am not seeing a lot of upside so far. Flowers is not a guy I believe is ready to step in and start any time soon. Dontae Johnson looked solid in his debut with limited snaps. Akeem King was beaten for a touchdown to 6’4″ Mike Williams, who leapt and showed strong hands wrestling the ball away from King’s outstretched hands. Byron Maxwell did not play. The corner position opposite Shaquill Griffin remains a serious concern, as do the starting safeties.
The other miscellaneous news of note included: Michael Dickson looking every bit like one of the best punters in the NFL, C.J. Prosise playing a full half without getting injured, and McGough looking like he could be the backup QB after all. Dickson was brilliant, punting three times for an average of 53.3 yards per kick and orbital hang time that made it easy on the coverage team to swarm the returner for microscopic returns. Jon Ryan should be let go so he can play with the Bills (who just lost their punter) or somewhere else. He’s not making this team. I am not excited to say goodbye to Ryan, but I am thrilled to welcome Dickson to the fold.
Prosise ran physically through the middle and took some good hits. He bounced back up and wound up leading the team in receptions with six. Mike Davis was getting the snaps with the first string two-minute offense. It would be nice to see Prosise in that role next week.
McGough started off 7-7 passing before throwing his first incompletion. He appeared far more poised and made some nice throws, including a perfect toss to Turner for the touchdown and a great back-shoulder fade to Cyril Grayson Jr. for the two-point conversion. Austin Davis looked awful in his very brief stint. Davis is not very good to begin with, so McGough has a real shot to push for that roster spot.
If that happens, we could see the rare occurrence of every Seahawks draft pick making the roster. Jamarco Jones is at risk of going to IR, but he already has shown enough to prove he was going to make this team. You might say that the draft picks all having a chance to land on the roster is a bigger indication of the lesser talent level on the team. The only players where that might be true are Flowers, Jacob Martin and McGough. Flowers would have definitely made it most years, and might have been good enough to earn a spot during the peak cornerback years of 2012 and 2013. Martin could have had trouble when the team was stacked among the front seven in 2013, but otherwise would have had a good shot.
Rashaad Penny, Green, Dissly, Shaquem Griffin, Dickson, and Jones would have made any roster of the Pete Carroll and John Schneider era. That is undeniably good news. How that will translate into wins and losses this season remains unclear. This starting offense looks promising, and should be better than last year. The defense looks flawed in the secondary, and has yet to prove it can stop the run consistently. The offense would need to be dominant and explosive to make up for a flawed defense. Seattle has had that in spurts during the Wilson era, but never for a full season. There is a flicker of hope this season could change that. The team will need to demonstrate better red zone efficiency, find a true competitor for Ifedi at right tackle, and bring back a healthy Lockett and Baldwin to see that spark catch fire.