The Morning After: Encouraging and Alarming Signs in 25-19 Loss to Vikings
Preseason football is difficult to evaluate. Lineups are rarely indicative of who will actually be playing when the games count. Competition often comes against players who may not even play in the NFL. Play calling is simplified and game plans to attack or defend specific opponents are not created. The Seahawks preseason loss to the Vikings was no exception. There were some important and encouraging performances that mattered far more than the poor play of back-ups, but there were also some troubling play and injury news.
Wilson looks terrific
Russell Wilson saw his first game action and was mostly fantastic. He made throws at various levels and across the width of the field. He looked confident in making his reads and getting rid of the football.
There were multiple big throws to Jaron Brown and Tyler Lockett. The offense continues to feature more routes crossing the field than I remember Wilson being asked to make in the past.
He has generally been a vertical thrower, whether it be deep down field or seam routes. I noticed in camp and now in this game that Brian Schottenheimer appears to be emphasizing more plays the stretch the field horizontally.
Wilson has looked especially comfortable making throws to players running from his right to his left. Those have often been tight ends in practice, even if that was not the case in this game. Brown and Lockett both caught a couple of these passes against Minnesota.
This trend is worth monitoring, as it could be among the larger changes to the passing game since Wilson has been with the team.
Starting offensive line shines
Wilson was able to make these throws due to outstanding pass protection. One of the intermediate passes to Brown especially stood out given how long the route took to develop and how comfortable Wilson was in the pocket while he waited for Brown to reach open space.
Wilson is still learning to trust his protection after years of faulty line play. His incompletion to Brown on one third down came on a Vikings blitz where Wilson appeared to think he was going to need to scramble and then rushed his throw high. Brown tried to take the blame after the game, but that’s a throw Wilson would have made had he stood and delivered the throw with a strong base.
Anxious play or rust was also likely a factor in Wilson’s other missed throw to Chris Carson on another third down that would have been an easy first down and likely touchdown.
The line blocked well for Carson in the run game as well. He averaged a healthy five yards a carry.
There were a couple of false starts, which was not great, but it was a strong game for the starters overall.
Poona Ford wreaks havoc
Having an interior defensive lineman who disrupts plays and spends a lot of time in opponent backfields is among the most enjoyable assets a football team can have. Seahawks fans have not had many players who fit that bill.
Michael Bennett was disruptive, but was not a true defensive tackle as he spent much of his time on the edge. Brandon Mebane had some moments, as did John Randle. Poona Ford has a chance to be a guy causing opponent headaches play after play from the interior.
He had two tackles for loss in this game and was robbed of a forced fumble when the referees made a ludicrous ruling that the runners forward progress had been stopped before the ball came loose. No matter.
Ford showed in his first game action this season that he very well could live up to the hype.
I also liked what I saw from Al Woods, who will be replacing Jarran Reed as the starter opposite Ford during the first six weeks of the season.
Decent pass pressure from starting defense
Barkevious Mingo and Cassius Marsh combined to force a rushed throw from Sean Mannion that settled directly into the hands of DeShawn Shead for a pick-six.
Cody Barton slid around the Vikings running back on a blitz and caused another rushed throw that was nearly picked off.
The downside of blitzing showed up as well when Jacob Martin was asked to cover a Minnesota running back on a route and was outmatched, leading to a missed tackle from Shead and 44-yard catch-and-run that led to a game-tying touchdown before the half.
Seattle very well could blitz more this year, but it will leave them more vulnerable to the big play. It feels like a gamble they will have to make.
Secondary has a rough night
Shaquill Griffin gave up a long catch to Adam Thielen on a third down, breaking the cardinal rule for corners in this defense along the way. Fans get upset when Seahawks corners allow underneath catches for 5, 10, or 15 yard gains. They scream at their televisions asking why the receiver was given so much space.
Pete Carroll will live with those plays as long as the corners stay on top and never let the receiver get behind them for explosive passes down field. His belief is that offenses struggle to string plays together over long drives and odds increase that the defense can force a turnover. Drives with big chunk plays often result in points.
Griffin got beat off the line, failed to close the gap, and did not find the ball in the air to try and make a play on it. Many on Twitter felt I was too harsh in my assessment, but that play can never happen. Griffin was great at keeping plays in front of him as a rookie.
He backslid last season, but the hope was that he had regained his form this year. This was a concerning sign. Hopefully, he will correct it and the play will serve as the reminder he needs.
Tre Flowers had a tough game with a 45-yard pass interference penalty when he was beaten deep and then grabbed the left arm of Thielen and pinned it to his side. It was unnecessary and kept him from completing a nice pass breakup as, unlike Griffin, he did track the ball and knocked it down.
Flowers had a hold on a nice punt return from David Moore and gave up at least one other reception.
Marquise Blair was the story of game one, but tumbled back to earth in this one as he appeared to blow an assignment badly that led to an easy Vikings touchdown, and then was carted off the sideline when he suffered back spasms.
His chances of unseating Tedric Thompson as a starter at safety took a big step backwards. Carroll made it clear this week he needed to be able to trust Blair in executing his assignments. That Blair then made at least one huge mistake will do little to engender trust.
Meanwhile, Thompson goes another game without making any play of note. Lano Hill did not suit up for this one, so the potential for unseating Thompson before the first game of the regular season is dwindling.
The secondary had a rough night overall. None of the nickel corners made a case for the starting role.
Depth is thin on the line
Both the offensive and defensive line play dropped considerably when the backups came in.
The offensive line, in particular, had tons of penalties and missed blocks. There was no running room and backup Paxton Lynch had very little time to throw.
Jamarco Jones did not play and so Elijah Nkansah was asked to play left tackle. It did not go well. He was beaten for a sack and at least one holding penalty.
The backup defensive line got pushed around and created little pressure. Earl Mitchell and Rasheem Green were getting manhandled much of the night.
Green continues to be one of the great disappointments of preseason. He appears to be nowhere close to being ready for an increased role.
Bryan Mone, who both Carroll and Ken Norton Jr. praised this week, was also pushed around.
Guard depth is so thin that Ethan Pocic was asked to come off the bench after he had finished playing when Demetrius Knox went down with injury.
With Mike Iupati likely out for a while, Jordan Simmons injured, and the absences of George Fant and Jones forcing Marcus Martin to play tackle, expect the team to go out and sign another guard or two this week.
Rashaad Penny struggles
After praising Penny in the opener and during camp for looking more decisive and quick, it was disappointing to see such a dud of a game from the second-year player.
Yes, the line he ran behind was awful. Yes, he had very few holes and often had free runners coming at him in the backfield. Guess what? So did Travis Homer and Xavier Turner, and they managed to make guys miss or simply run with purpose from the moment they got the handoff.
Penny has a tendency to get tentative when there is not a big hole and slows down considerably instead of hitting the line and grinding out a yard or two. This makes him far more susceptible to negative yardage.
He finished the night with six carries for -2 yards. That is…not good. He needs to be better.
Homer looked good in his first action. His roster spot is all but assured.
D.K. Metcalf injury
We learned after the game that D.K. Metcalf will require knee surgery. Yuck. Carroll insists he will be back quickly, but that could mean anything knowing Carroll’s track record for recovery predictions.
It is a bummer to have to wait for his debut with Wilson. That said, he was still likely to start the year as the fourth receiver behind Lockett, Brown, and Moore. His absence creates opportunity for a guy like Malik Turner to get more targets.
Mixed bag with backup receivers
Jazz Ferguson had a couple nice catches, but also fumbled. Gary Jennings was officially targeted once, but I can’t remember seeing it. John Ursua did a nice job snagging a catch and slipping a tackle. Terry Wright forced a pass interference call.
The performances here come with the caveat that Lynch was under duress most of the game so their chances were limited and often not great throws.
The Seahawks now shift their attention to the third preseason game next Saturday in Los Angeles against the Chargers. The starters usually play into the third quarter, but one has to wonder if Carroll will be tempted to protect a few players or positions given the mounting injury issues.
The roster race is still wide open, especially at cornerback, wide receiver, and tight end.
Had both starting units for Minnesota and Seattle played in this game, my instinct was that Seattle would have come out on top. At the very least, it would have been a very competitive game on the road. That was encouraging. While the starting offense only scored three points, it felt like they were capable of scoring well into the 20s against a good defense.
Many of the worst performances came from players who are not starters, including folks like Penny and the backup offensive line. The more concerning performances were from starters in the secondary like Griffin who must be better. Two more games to get right.