The Morning After: Seahawks Mix Old Flaws with New Talent for 21-20 Win Over Bengals
Hello aggravation, my old friend. It is that time of the year. Seattle skies are are waging an epic battle between summer sun and autumn storms. Reluctant whispers have begun about days getting shorter. Northwest berries have lost their vibrance. And your Seattle Seahawks are driving you absolutely bonkers. It must be September.
Seattle struggled once again in a season opener against what was expected to be a vastly inferior opponent. The fact that they struggled should not have been a surprise. They came into the game 4-5 in season openers under Pete Carroll, and have not won their first game since 2016 when they had a similarly teeth-grinding 12-10 victory against the woeful Miami Dolphins.
Aggravation only comes when there is a disparity between your expectations and reality. There were a litany of errors in setting my expectations for this game:
Ezekiel Ansah did not play, turning what could have been a major advantage into a far smaller one
The Bengals were awful last season on offense and defense. New head coach Zac Taylor looks like a good one who will lead this team to a far better 2019 than anyone expected. That was not a six win team out there.
The Seahawks offensive line had looked improved in pass protection. They were arguably worse than a season ago and brought back memories of the J’Marcus Webb era.
I thought Brian Schottenheimer was going to incorporate more intermediate throws and screens that require less time to develop.
The Seahawks run game was going to be the one constant this offense could rely on.
I believed Tedric Thompson was capable of basic athletic functions.
The offensive line aspect sticks out because I continue to too generous in my projections of the talent on that line. Germain Ifedi whiffed so badly on his opponents you would have thought they had converted to gaseous form.
There is a lot more to complain about—and I probably will—but let’s focus for a bit on what we may have learned in this game.
Tyler Lockett is not a #1 receiver yet
This might have been my most egregious mistake in analysis. I believed Lockett had ascended to the top-tier of receivers and would continue to be great this year. He can be, but it will be because he grew and developed, not because he is already there.
Lockett was honest about the fact that he had not seen double-teams like the Bengals threw at him since his college days. Doug Baldwin Jr. was the guy who often commanded that kind of coverage. Lockett benefitted from Baldwin in ways we are all still coming to grips with.
This is something Lockett, Russell Wilson, and Schottenheimer need to work on together. It’s on all of them. This offense will not function if Lockett is getting two targets in a game like he did Sunday.
The good news is I believe Lockett can make the necessary adjustments. We will learn in week two what kind of trajectory this trek is going to take.
D.K. Metcalf is going to be just fine
There was some delightful irony in D.K. Metcalf making his first two NFL receptions on slant routes considering many scouts said he could only run go routes straight down the field. He did that as well in a performance that stood out on a number of levels.
He broke the Seahawks rookie record for receiving yards (89) in a player’s first game that had been held for 43 years by Steve Largent. He also became just the sixth player age 21 or younger to have that many receiver yards in their first game. Two of the other five guys to do it were Randy Moss and DeSean Jackson. Not a bad way to start a career.
Metcalf did more than pile up numbers. He made plays that mattered. The Seahawks first touchdown came after Metcalf drew a pass interference penalty in the endzone to set up Chris Carson’s 1-yard run. Their second touchdown came after Wilson completed a 42 yard pass to Metcalf down the left sideline. Seattle’s third touchdown came after Wilson threw a miraculous teardrop pass to Metcalf on third down for 25 yards to set the stage for Lockett’s long grab to start the fourth quarter.
All three of the Seahawks touchdowns were enabled by crucial plays from Metcalf. That is some #adulting for the youngster.
As encouraging as Metcalf’s performance was in his debut, it would be a mistake to think any rookie is qualified to carry a similar load throughout their first season. Seattle needs more from others.
One last note on Metcalf was that, according the NFL Next Gen Stats, Metcalf made his plays with only about a yard of separation from his defenders. The negative interpretation there is his route running is not great. The positive is that he does not need separation to make plays due to his size and strength. That makes him a far bigger headache for opposing defenses.
Quinton Jefferson can help
That was some kind of game from Quinton Jefferson. Don’t write off that 2016 draft class quite yet. Jefferson recorded a third of his career 6.0 sacks in this game and had 3 QB hits to go along with them. He also swatted two passes out of the air.
Jefferson was the starting 5T defensive end last season but came into the league as a defensive tackle. That is what he was playing yesterday, often lining up next to Jadeveon Clowney.
He will face better offensive lines, but that does not take anything away from the fact that he delivered against this one. Many lineman feast on inferior opponents.
Jefferson was one guy who took a very promising preseason and translated it into the regular season, at least for one game. That can only help knowing the team gets Jarran Reed back after five more games.
Shaquill Griffin looks better
Many folks are going to focus on the 418 yards passing by Andy Dalton and assume the secondary was terrible. The Seahawks played a lot of zone coverage from what I could see. That generally allowed the Bengals to complete shorter passes underneath and took away deeper throws.
It also gave fewer opportunities for the corners to demonstrate their man coverage skills. Shaquill Griffin made three very impressive plays when he was in man.
He broke on a ball an knocked it away on a stick route. With the Bengals leading 17-14 in the second quarter and driving for more points, Dalton saw John Ross streaking down the seam and lofted a pass that appeared destined for a big completion. Griffin was defending his man on the right sideline but had his eyes on the ball and saw Ross was uncovered so he slid over and knocked the ball away. The Bengals would later turnover the ball on downs.
Finally, the Bengals jumped at the snap but the players did not hear the whistle and Dalton lofted another deep pass 50+ yards downfield to Ross. This time, Griffin was matched up on the NFL’s fastest man, and ran with him stride-for-stride before diving and swatting the ball away. It did not count in the official stat book, but you better believe it counted in Griffin’s mind.
Despite the gaudy Bengals passing numbers, Griffin had a performance that left me encouraged.
Al Woods could be darn good
This was one of the darkhorse signings that I’ve had my eye on and Woods did nothing to dissuade me from that perspective in this game. He was the player who stuffed the Bengals on 4th down to get the ball back in the first half. He also drew a huge holding penalty down near the Seahawks goal line to push the Bengals back and force them to settle for a field goal that turned out to be their final points.
The defensive tackle depth looks promising pending word on Poona Ford’s injury.
Jadeveon Clowney is a beast
The new defensive end was close to unblockable for the first half before wearing down a bit in the second half. There was a stark contrast in the pass rush when he was in versus when he was not. Rasheem Green and Branden Jackson are just not quality pass rushers at this point.
I continue to question why the team kept Jackson over a guy like Cassius Marsh. This is part of why I would have much rather given up a guy like Rashaad Penny than a guy like Jacob Martin in the deal for Clowney. We have no idea if that was an option, but my point is that the defensive end situation is not great when either Ansah or Clowney are not on the field. When both of them are off the field, it’s downright bad.
Granted, Green made the game-sealing strip sack, but he was not a factor for most of the day against really poor tackles for the Bengals.
Clowney, on the other hand, should continue to get better as he gets his wind back and benefits from the return of Ansah.
Tedric Thompson needs to go
I am not sure a single NFL team would pick up Thompson if the Seahawks were to cut him today. If they did, I am certain he would not start for any of them. Thompson had one of the easiest plays a safety will ever see in the closing seconds of the first half when Dalton lofted a jump ball right to Thompson.
There was plenty of time to track the ball, position himself, and make either a simple interception or swat the ball down. Instead, he misjudged the flight of the ball and gave up a touchdown that very well could have cost his team the game.
Think about it. As poorly as the Seahawks played, they would have won by 8 points if Thompson makes that basic play. It was inexcusable.
The Seahawks need to make a change. Any change. Play Lano Hill or Marquise Blair. Sign DeShawn Shead. Just do not keep running Thompson out there and expect he will all-of-a-sudden be a competent NFL athlete.
People will scream at me for saying it, but I left mostly encouraged by the defense. Yes, they gave up a ton of yards through the air, but much of it came in zone coverage underneath. They ended up allowing 20 points, had four sacks and five QB hits, and locked down the running game.
It felt like the parts were there for a defense that could become much better than I expected as the season rolls on, but we will certainly learn a lot more in the coming weeks against Pittsburgh, New Orleans, and others.
The offense was a huge disappointment. Nathan Ernst was teasing me in the post-game show last night that the team ran more in this game than they did last season against the Broncos in the opener and the offense was still bad. That is true.
What also is true is that the Wilson did not throw an interception because the team limited pass attempts after seeing the line was a mess. He threw two last year in the first game. He was also sacked two fewer times. Oh, and the Seahawks won this game.
This type of performance will not win many games. Lockett needs to improve. The line needs to steady. Schottenheimer needs to make better and faster adjustments.
How this team was still calling slow-developing play action passes in the second half was beyond explanation. That they did not have outlet passes for Wilson in case of pressure may point more to a reluctance of Wilson to utilize those options than to Schottenheimer’s unwillingness to offer them.
Nothing gets any easier heading into Pittsburgh next week against a team that just got blown out in New England and will be desperate to avoid an 0-2 start. Seattle can win that game, but not with the way they played on Sunday. Time to turn over a new leaf.