The Morning After: Seahawks Offer Some Pleasant Surprises in Otherwise Predictable Loss to Denver
You had to know this would be the outcome. Seattle almost never wins in road openers. Denver is practically unbeatable at home in September. Von Miller is one of the best defenders in football. K.J. Wright was out, forcing a work-in-progress rookie to play in his place. Dontae Johnson got injured days before the game, forcing a work-in-progress rookie to play in his place. If not for Earl Thomas returning from his holdout in time to play a significant role in this game, the outcome could have been far, far worse. Amid all the predictability, there were some surprises. Some pleasant. Some not. As we embark on this season of Seahawks discovery, we have left our first port knowing a little more than we did before. The seas ahead are sure to be rough, but there will be splendor along the way.
Will Dissly. Who knew? The fourth-round pick out of the University of Washington, who converted from a defensive lineman to a tight end just last year, was easily the biggest surprise of the game. He finished with 3 catches for 105 yards and a touchdown. One of his catches included a rumbling, stumbling, 66-yard catch-and-run that might as well have had a glow filter applied with stars pulsing around the edges and DreamWeaver playing in the background as I fell in love. This is what a tight end is supposed to look like. Dissly cemented my affections by whispering these sweet nothings in my ear in his postgame interview
His jersey rockets to the top of my wishlist as he restores honor to the #88 in Seattle. It is unreasonable to expect that kind of performance from Dissly on a regular basis as teams will now know he is more than just an in-line blocker, but much of what we saw indicated his upside is much higher than anyone dared to predict. Not only does he have a legitimate shot to be Zach Miller, he may be better. Scoff if you must. Just watch.
Brandon Marshall should have had two touchdowns this game. He needlessly pushed off on his first score, and was called for an offensive pass interference that often goes uncalled. He also had a clutch third-down catch in the middle of triple zone coverage that was an equally encouraging sign of growing trust between him and his quarterback. The team will need more from him. This was a promising start.
Bradley McDougald shocked me with two interceptions, and he easily could have had a third if had not dropped a simple tipped pass on the first Broncos possession. The Seahawks starting safeties were terrific, combining for three picks and four passes defensed. As great as Kam Chancellor was, he had been creating fewer turnovers the last couple of years. His last season with more than two interceptions was back in 2013 when he had three. McDougald nearly matched that in one game today. Admittedly, Case Keenum was awful at times. That’s the NFL. Do you really think Chancellor did not face guys like Keenum the past few seasons? Of course he did. McDougald proved in this game at least, that he has higher impact potential than I give him credit for.
Michael Dickson was not exactly a surprise, but the dude set an NFL record in his first game. His net average of 57.5 yards per punt was the most in NFL history for a player with at least six punts.
Denver’s average starting field position after a Dickson punt was the 14.5 yard line. On possessions that started with a Dickson punt, the Broncos punted four times, threw an interception that led to a touchdown on a short field, and kicked a field goal.
Dickson was among the best defenders on the field for Seattle. He had a 69-yard punt that went out at the 6-yard line. The line of scrimmage went from the Seahawks 25-yard line to the Broncos 6-yard line. That is insane. He didn’t even require a return team on most kicks as he angled them out of bounds. He may have had the best punting performance in NFL history in his first game. That is a hard statement to prove, but the record he set at least makes it plausible. He is going to be a weapon for the next 15 years in Seattle.
There were some surprises that were more confusing than good or bad. Top of that list was that Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny split reps in the backfield. Each player had exactly 25 snaps and 7 carries. Both were targeted 5 times in the passing game. I was eager to see Carson unleashed on the NFL, and excited to see if Penny had more to offer than we have witnessed thus far. It never occurred to me that the coaches would deploy them equal amounts.
This game did little to help me see why Penny is deserving of splitting reps. He’s fine in the Robert Turbin, give the starter a series off, sort of role. Carson did significantly more with his chances. He finished with 51 yards on 7 carries for a 7.3 average that included an eye-popping leap over a defender on a 24-yard run. He also averaged 4.5 yards on his other carries. Penny gained just 8 yards on his 7 carries for a dreadful 1.1 average. He did fine receiving, including a 15-yard catch that set-up the Marshall touchdown.
I just don’t see the burst, the wiggle, the power, to justify equal time with Carson. Take these two examples. Both players receive a pass from Wilson in the middle of the field and have to beat the same defender (#31) in the open field. These are the moments that running backs live for. Single defender. Open field. Make him miss. Run him over. Whatever your thing is, here is where you do it. Check out how each back did:
You will have trouble finding a more apples-to-apples open field moment against the same defender for two running backs. I don’t even think this is a particularly difficult win for the back. Carson did what you are expected to do. Mike Davis would have likely made that man miss. There is a huge advantage for the offensive player when there is no help on either side of the defender. This doesn’t mean Penny is worthless, but it’s a good example of a moment where I was holding my breath hoping to see a sign of something special gift, and exhaled in disappointment with the result.
Lots of people are complaining that the Seahawks should have run the ball more. Not me. I just want to see them give the ball to their best player and let Penny earn more snaps. Critics will point to Carson’s fumble. Sure, that was bad, but I’d bet at least 50% of backs in the NFL would have lost that fumble the way the play unfolded. Miller snuck up from the perfect angle and had great leverage. As of right now, it should be far more of a question whether C.J. Prosise should be stealing reps from Penny than Penny nabbing them from Carson.
This was an uneven performance for Wilson. He had some great throws to Dissly, Tyler Lockett, and Marshall. He also had some head-scratchers, including a few rockets fired to his backs a few yards away that were uncatchable and a few that were off-target to his backs that made for difficult catches or limited yards after the catch. His worst throw of the day was probably the interception he threw in Seattle territory when Marshall was open and Wilson did not put enough air under the ball, allowing the underneath defender to drift back and make a relatively easy pick.
He also was uncharacteristically discombobulated during the final drive. Those are the moments he tends to shine. This time, he fumbled a snap after wasting nearly 20 seconds between plays, and then chose to spike the ball instead of running a play.
Most everyone will point to the six sacks and roll their eyes about the offensive line play. Truth be told, a number of the sacks were as much about Wilson decisions as the line. Sure, Germain Ifedi got embarrassed by Miller for a sack and beat J.R. Sweezy on a stunt for another. The line was not great. They also were worlds better than what we witnessed in Green Bay last year in the opener when Mike Daniels practically lived in the backfield. Wilson had too many moments where he chose not to throw the ball away or take his first read.
In those moments where he chooses to be off-script, he has to be smarter than to spin blindly in the direction of the all-world pass rusher. He did that at least twice and was punished for it each time. Those classic Wilson plays where he retreats 10 or 15 yards behind the line and spins in every direction to avoid rushers before unleashing soul crushing completions are fewer and farther between. He was sacked almost every time he tried that in this game.
What will be worth watching is whether this coaching staff will work with him to avoid those negative plays through more standard means like quick reads and willingness to throw the ball away. It is tough given how much of Wilson’s magic has come off-script. You don’t want to steal his shine, but he has a chance to evolve to the next phase of his career if someone can help guide him toward more repeatable outcomes in those situations.
The Seahawks defense is pretty bad. It was great to see the three turnovers. It was nice to see a few stops to give the offense a chance to win the game. And yes, there is a chance they will improve when Thomas plays a whole game, Wright is back, and they add a veteran corner. That said, the pass rush was healthy and it was awful. Denver does not have a good offensive line, and they dominated the Seahawks defensive line all afternoon.
There was almost no penetration in the run game and Keenum had all day to throw. Rasheem Green was silent. Quinton Jefferson was no more impactful than he has been in previous years. Tom Johnson was silent. Shamar Stephen was silent. A pretty good sign of how the line struggled was that Bobby Wagner had only 5 tackles. There was too much traffic he had to fight through. Shaquem Griffin was really bad. He blew at least two coverages that I saw. One directly led to a touchdown.
Tre Flowers has yet to cover a receiver running across the field that I have seen. He does reasonably well on go routes straight down the field, but his lack of lateral agility gets exposed on those plays where he has to change direction. He is not ready to be on the field. Seattle needs to be auditioning veteran corners today. Lots of people are asking about DeShawn Shead. That is fine if that is where they have to go, but he is older and injured. My preference would be to see a guy like DeAndre Elliott return if he has recovered from his injury. He is younger, can play both inside and outside, and has upside. Sticking with Flowers as the starter would be a mistake.
Sebastian Janikowski missed two field goal attempts. The team lost by three points. He is 40 and there is a 30-year-old kicker named Dan Bailey, who is the second-most accurate in the history of the NFL sitting on the street. Go get him. This is silly. Janikowski is fine. He’s not Blair Walsh, but he has not been a particularly accurate kicker for years. Go get the younger more reliable guy now.
Seattle heads to Chicago next week for a Monday night game. It will be their home opener and Khalil Mack will be ready to wreak havoc. Neither Denver nor Chicago are better than the Seahawks. That will not help Seattle avoid going 0-2. The offense will be without their best receiver in Doug Baldwin, who is probably out a few weeks or longer. They need to put their best foot forward. That means featuring their best players who have proven their worth. It means Wilson letting it rip to his receivers and dreamy new tight end. They will need to control the clock more than they did Sunday to protect a vulnerable defense. Converting 2 of 12 third downs is not going to cut it. This offense has to be reliable for the Seahawks to weather the storms ahead.