Being a Seahawks fan is a pretty pleasurable experience, especially over the last 20 years. The franchise wins more games than it loses. They make the playoffs regularly. They have made and won Super Bowls recently, and they showcase some of the best talent in the league. That is, except, for week one. Week one is the Bermuda Triangle, where up is down and left is right. Many Seahawk teams have gone down when entering the triangle. In fact, Seattle was 17-27 (0.383) in season openers heading into this week in Atlanta. No matter how good the team appears to be, or how much of a mismatch the game is on paper, it is a struggle. Not this year. Not this team. Meet your 2020 Seattle Seahawks, who have come to slay demons and chew bubble gum, and due to Covid precautions, have been asked not to chew gum.
Excelling in week one in plenty to get excited about, but the Seahawks went Oprah on fans with gripes.
“You get more neutral script passing on early downs! And you get going for it on fourth down! And you get starting aggressive early! And you get staying aggressive with the lead! And you get the quick passing game! And you get running back screens! And you get Jamal Adams being used creatively! And you get less base defense! And you get Pete Carroll proving he can adapt his philosophy!”
There has been a deep divide in the Seahawks fan community, at least on Twitter, where most fans were happy with the team winning games, and a growing vocal minority have been upset that the team was not maximizing their chances to win with a more modern offensive approach. Sunday was a day of unified glee across the whole fanbase.
Russell Wilson was masterful in completing 31 of 35 passes (88%) for 322 yards, 4 TDs, and 0 INTs. This was not only his best performance in a season opener by far, but it was in the conversation for the best game of his career. One of his four incompletions was a bad drop by D.K. Metcalf. Wilson was brilliant from the opening snap to the final kneel down.
We will likely find that the Falcons defense is one of the worst in the league, with the secondary being the worst part of a bad unit. That changes little about the significance of what we saw on Sunday.
Seattle has played bad defenses with bad secondaries before. They have often failed to exploit them or failed to exploit them enough.
Carroll has always been clear that his number one rule is: “It’s all about the ball.” On offense, that means he wants to limit turnovers for his team, and control the ball to reduce opponent possession. The primary tactic he has employed to accomplish those goals was to run the ball roughly half the time.
What has often been lost in the “Let Russ Cook” storyline was that it is not just about passing volume. For the team to adhere to Carroll’s philosophy while passing more, they were going to need to pass differently. Wilson is a historically accurate deep ball passer. You cannot build a ball control passing game through an abundance of deep shots.
Brian Schottenheimer put together a game plan that involved early down passing, where defenses have less capability to assume a pass is coming, as well as a series of high percentage short throws. There were screen passes to running backs, crossing throws to receivers and tight ends, and better use of swing passes to backs as an outlet. Together, this allowed the Seahawks to gain valuable yardage through the air without being too risky with the ball.
It was not just the types of plays being called. It was the aggressive mentality exhibited by the coaching staff over and over and over again.
The play of the game was easily the 4th and 5 decision to go for it from the Falcons 38-yard line. Carroll infuriated fans last season by regularly gifting possession back to their opponent without a fight by punting on their side of the field. In this case, a punt might have gained the team 20-30 yards. Instead, Wilson was sent out with a lead and orders to kill.
He was not there to pick up a first down. He was there to deliver a haymaker. His perfect pass to Metcalf in the endzone started what became a defining third quarter where the Seahawks outscored the Falcons 14-0 to enter the fourth quarter with a lead larger than all but one game last season.
Remember the hand wringing last season about point differential and all the naysayers this offseason about how the Seahawks would regress to the mean based on that differential? Well, those folks can take that 20 point lead with 40 seconds to go and kindly insert it in their tailpipe.
The makeover on offense was so thorough, I could dedicate this entire article and many others just to that. Here are a few more notes before we spend some time on other aspects of the team:
- The offensive line was adequate. That could sound like shade if you forget how often they have been an absolute dumpster fire in season openers over the years. Wilson would not have been able to deliver that performance behind a line leaking pressure immediately after the snap. They also limited penalties, other than rookie Damian Lewis, which meant fewer “behind schedule” plays to overcome. Solid start.
- The use of Chris Carson was perplexing. He is coming off an injury. If that is the reason Carlos Hyde got more carries, I can live with it. If this is a sign of how they will divvy up workload, I cannot. Travis Homer is nothing special. I never want to see a box score where Carson has just three more carries than Homer ever again.
- David Moore had a nice role, and filled it well. Josh Gordon will be a good addition, but Moore is not a problem as the third receiver.
It is worth talking about special teams for a second. As good as the offense was, there was a stretch after the team scored two touchdowns to start the game where they went cold. Michael Dickson helped the team by looking much more like the guy who was a first team all-pro as a rookie than the guy who was just above average last year. All of his punts were good. Some of them were very good. His net average was 45.8, after averaging around 40 in that stat last year.
The punt return unit also had a rare chance to create a turnover when the Falcons went for it on a fake punt and Marquise Blair blew up the ball carrier, knocking the ball free for a key turnover.
Even Jason Myers did his job.
The biggest question about this Seahawks team has been their defense, especially the pass rush. There are still plenty of questions after this game. Jamal Adams is not one of them.
Adams looked like a defensive player of the year candidate while being involved in what seemed like every play. He led the team in tackles, had a sack and a few QB hits, along with a couple of tackles for loss and some passes defensed.
He paired with what appeared to be Bobby Wagner returning to his elite level of play. I have been open about my concerns regarding Wagner’s performance last season and whether he may be declining earlier than any of us would have hoped. He was fantastic on Sunday, especially in coverage.
Outside of those two, it would be hard to give anyone else a glowing review. There were a lot of decent performances. Benson Mayowa had a nice game. L.J. Collier nearly had a sack and forced an intentional grounding. Lano Hill showed up in coverage a few times. Damontre Moore was effective in limited snaps.
The secondary gave up a ton of yards. Shaquill Griffin and Quinton Dunbar were far from shutdown corners. Blair and Hill were just okay. We will likely learn that the Falcons passing game is among the best in the league, but the Seahawks did little to make them inefficient.
Ryan seemed to get most of what he wanted, except in key moments when the defensive line found a way to get pressure. For this defense to be good with the parts they have, the secondary has to be great. They were not great on Sunday.
As far as pass pressure goes, there was a lot of one-on-one pass blocking without trouble for the Falcons. Ken Norton Jr. called a large number of blitzes, but they were not well disguised and Ryan was able to anticipate them in most cases and exploit the holes they created. I do not have much faith in Norton as a coordinator. I have not seen him out coach anyone yet.
The good news was the Falcons were shredding the Seahawks run defense in the first half as well as the pass defense, and the team made some adjustments to stop the interior run game in the second half. Atlanta lost a series or two trying to exploit that advantage, and it was just what the Seahawks needed to extend their lead.
The hope has to be that the team signs a veteran defensive tackle this week. Veteran contracts are not guaranteed after week one of the NFL season, and Schneider has been known to sign vets in week two before. The interior needs more. There are options like Damon Harrison and Marcel Dareus out there. Go get one and make your team better.
This was a feelgood start to the season, even with the weak spots on defense. The Seahawks did not necessarily prove they were a more talented team than we thought heading into this game, but they proved they are willing to maximize that talent through a more modern approach on offense. That, alone, raises expectations for what this team can accomplish this season. One game is not a trend. The team now needs to demonstrate they can deploy this approach more often and be effective in doing so. Atlanta had no reason to expect this from Seattle. Other opponents will. With Wilson at the helm, though, they better bring a whole bunch of bubble gum.