The Morning After: Seahawks Take Big Step Forward Versus Badass Vikings, Despite 21-20 Loss
Seattle may be in the midst of figuring out who they are on both sides of the ball, but there is no doubt who the Minnesota Vikings are. A splendid defense and efficient offense make Minnesota a Super Bowl favorite heading into this season. No defense in the NFL was better last year, as they led the league in both yards and points allowed. The offense was second in the league in third down conversion rate and seventh in rushing yards. The Seahawks went into Minnesota last night and outplayed the Vikings for three quarters until the reserves took over. Most encouraging was the aggression and swagger on defense, along with the pass protection on offense. That was a team capable of beating quality opponents, even if the result ended up being a loss.
The thought of Danielle Hunter, Anthony Barr, and company going up against Germain Ifedi and the Seahawks line in a noisy U.S. Bank Stadium was enough to cause sleepless nights for anyone who cares about Russell Wilson’s health. Remarkably, Wilson enjoyed arguably his best protection of the preseason. Ifedi, at real risk of losing his job for the first time in his career, played what appeared to be a very solid game. His pass protection was solid and he made some quality blocks in the run game. Fant played well in pass protection, especially for his first game at right tackle, but had some trouble with his run blocking.
Duane Brown is almost the forgotten man. He won the battle with Hunter for the most part, other than one outside run where Hunter made a tackle for loss. There have been few negative rushing plays thus far in the preseason. Rees Odhiambo was the left tackle at this time last year. The gap between Odhiambo and Brown cannot be measured with modern scientific means. Justin Britt continued his strong preseason, and Ethan Pocic appeared to have his best game thus far. Wilson had plenty of time, even if he was not finding many open receivers.
He ended the game with rare inefficiency in his stat line, completing just 11/21 and averaging just 5.6 yards per throw. It was easier to excuse that given the production of the running game against a stout Vikings front-seven. Both Chris Carson and Mike Davis averaged nearly 5 yards per run, with Carson also scoring a touchdown.
Brandon Marshall caught all three passes thrown his way and really looks like someone the Seahawks could rely on to provide a big, physical target. It was also nice to see Keenan Reynolds doing his best Doug Baldwin impression from the slot, converting multiple third downs, and showcasing some of his run-after-catch ability. Marcus Johnson showed off some of what I have witnessed in practices as a player with deep speed, making a gorgeous catch of a deep Wilson throw. That offense, with Baldwin and Tyler Lockett added back in, would be good enough to beat a lot of teams. Rashaad Penny and Ed Dickson may provide additional value, but there is not enough evidence to project that.
More exciting than the offense was a defense that surprised me with how active and effective they were at the line of scrimmage. Jarran Reed, Shamar Stephen, Quinton Jefferson, Tom Johnson, and Rasheem Green all looked good. The Vikings were stubborn about running the ball, but the Seahawks gave up very little. Minnesota finished the game averaging 2.4 yards per carry, with a long rush of 8 yards. The Seahawks starters did not give up a run longer than 5 yards. That is incredibly encouraging considering how they looked a week ago in Los Angeles.
Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright were able to do their thing. Barkevious Mingo, however, was the player who stood out for me. Drafted 6th overall a few years back as a pass rusher, Mingo is clearly a great athlete. That was on full display in this game as he leapt over blockers, batted down passes, and made jarring hits on both defense and special teams. He has a chance to bring back some of the swagger Seattle lost when Bruce Irvin left for Oakland. Mingo is a huge upgrade over Michael Wilhoite at the SAM linebacker spot.
Dontae Johnson got the start at corner opposite Shaquill Griffin, and appeared to play a very solid game. Tre Flowers came off the bench and did fine, but Johnson looks like he should be ahead of Flowers on the depth chart, which is good news for the Seahawks cornerback depth.
Tedric Thompson looked like he was seriously injured early, but was able to return to the field, only to be injured again on a special teams play. That meant more playing time for Maurice Alexander, who ended up leading the team in tackles. Delano Hill started at strong safety and had 5 tackles in the first quarter. The safety spot continues to look like a real weak link on this roster.
Kirk Cousins and the Vikings offense had a difficult time moving down the field. They were forced to rely on third down conversions, six of them in their first two drives. Three of those six were on 3rd and 7 or longer. One of the conversions came via penalty when Shaquill Griffin was called for a questionable holding penalty. That left the Vikings with a 1st & Goal from the 3-yard line, and the Seahawks still forced them to run three more plays before eventually getting in the endzone.
While much of the attention on Twitter was about the Seahawks struggles to get off the field, I was far more focused on the fact that Minnesota had to fight for every single inch. The best defenses the Seahawks ever fielded frustrated fans by allowing too many third down conversions while teams put together lengthy drives with lots of plays. That is a sign that Pete Carroll just might be able to cobble together a respectable defense out of this group. A key difference is those past groups often punished offenses for long drives by eventually taking the ball away. This group has shown no signs of being able to create turnovers.
The pass rush was not particularly good against Minnesota. Green finally got more time against the starting group, and stood out much more for his play against the run than against the pass. Jacob Martin had a really nice game with a sack and two QB hits, but that largely came against reserves. New defensive end Erik Walden had two sacks (also against the reserves), and looks like he might be able to add to the rotation.
The player of the game, though, was undoubtedly Michael Dickson. The young wizard, whose foot appears to be a magic wand, has made punting must-watch TV. Punts are typically judged by three criteria: distance, hang time, and return yards allowed. Punts that are super long, tend to either suffer from lower trajectory and hang time or wind up allowing significant return yards as the coverage team is unable to get down the field in time. Dickson defies all of that. He kicks the ball incredibly far, with ridiculous hang time, and allows almost nothing on returns. He managed to kick two 57-yard punts that bounced sideways inside the 10-yard line. That is like Dude Perfect stuff. His biggest “mistake” may have been kicking a 62-yarder from his own end zone that did not have quite the same hang time as his other kicks, and allowed the Vikings player to return it. Dickson took care of that mistake himself by making a Krav Maga-style tackle takedown.
There is a very real chance Dickson could be an All-Pro as a rookie. His contributions will hide some of the flaws on defense. His battery mate, Sebastian Janikowski, contributed a 55-yard field goal. Janikowski will miss his share of field goals, but it will never be due to feeling too much pressure. It is hard to believe the guy is even paying attention to the game. Coaches just keep a stash of Bud light on the sidelines and help him stuff his head in his helmet when it is time to kick the ball.
The starters checked out with a well-earned 13-6 lead over the Vikings. Things got a little wacky after that. Austin Davis did nothing to build confidence he could be the backup after managing to throw three times for -1 yards. Alex McGough had some ups and downs, but showed again that he has far more upside than Davis. He connected with David Moore on a great touchdown and showed off his running ability. His decision making is clearly a problem. Seattle would have little chance to win a game against any opponent with either of these players behind center. If they do decide to go with one of them, my preference would be McGough.
It was a bummer to see the Vikings come back and win the game at the end. The Seahawks sideline clearly was excited about the way they were playing and hoping to fly home with their first victory. What mattered far more were the strong signs of progress in pass protection, run blocking, and run defense. This Seahawks team was hitting harder, rallying more to the ball, and playing a tougher brand of football, than the team that showed up the first two weeks. It left me far more eager to see how they fare in week one than I was prior to kickoff. This last game will be about sorting out the bottom of the roster. Remember John Schneider had a number of moves up his sleeves before finalizing his roster last year, including trades that sent Cassius Marsh elsewhere and brought Justin Coleman here. We also will get a better feel for whether guys like Ed Dickson, Baldwin, J.R. Sweezy, and Dion Jordan will be ready to contribute early in the year.