The Morning After: Seahawks Disappoint vs Raiders in Preseason Opener
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Evaluating preseason football is always challenging. It is proving to be more difficult as coaches across the league continue to reduce the snaps for starters. It used to be customary that Pete Carroll would give Russell Wilson and the starters one series in the first preseason game, one quarter in the second, and play into the second half of the third, before sitting out the fourth game entirely. Barely any starters played a snap in Seattle’s first game this preseason, and there are only two more games to go due to the new 17-game regular season schedule. Even with those caveats, there are some things we can learn from the ugly performance we saw on Saturday night.
Roster depth is suspect at a number of positions
Many Seahawks fans remember the 2012-2013 Seahawks rosters, and how even the third string players at many positions dominated opponents third and sometimes second stringers. Check out some of these names who were cut from the 2013 squad:
Jaye Howard (went on to start for the Chiefs for a few years)
Sean McGrath (same)
Ron Parker (same)
These were guys who were often starters for other NFL teams. We can say with absolute certainty that this 2021 Seahawks roster will not challenge that one for quality depth at almost any position. That is not a surprise given where the team is in the roster curve with multiple star players on massive contracts and low draft position.
Where we believe there is depth, though, it showed. The defensive line, especially on the edges, has more quality players than they have in years. Even without Carlos Dunlap, Benson Mayowa, Kerry Hyder, and Poona Ford playing, there were promising flashes from a number of linemen.
Darrell Taylor finally debuted as what feels like a rookie season, and showed some promise as a pass rusher. More on him later. Alton Robinson continues to look like an up-and-coming edge rusher. Rasheem Green was a consistent presence from snap one. Bryan Mone got a sack, thanks in part to Green’s pressure. Even L.J. Collier had a moment here and there.
There were also some positive signs in terms of linebacker depth as Cody Barton played fast and aggressively with two sacks and a number of tackles, while Ben Burr-Kirven led the team with 12 tackles.
Ryan Neal had some nice moments at safety.
Almost no unit, however, played well enough to make you feel like they were budding stars, waiting in the wings behind established starters. It felt far more like a lot of backup players playing against other backup players.
The defensive tackle play was pretty awful, especially against the run. Guys like Myles Adams stood out as particularly bad. Cornerback play was bad, and I’ll share more on why that is concerning in a moment. Offensive line play was very bad. Quarterback play was bad-to-very-bad. Receiver play was bad. Tight end play was awful.
I am not sure any player that suited up for Seattle on Saturday, besides Jordyn Brooks, would start for another NFL team. Many of those players are going to be on the Seahawks final 53-man roster.
Darrell Taylor debut
Taylor probably earned the most buzz of any “new” Seahawk during camp, with veteran after veteran touting his explosiveness. Taylor is being asked to be a SAM linebacker, while also getting snaps at rush end. What I saw in camp was a player who seemed questionable as a linebacker, with promise as a pass rusher. This game reinforced that assessment.
Taylor looked most at home when he was flying off the edge. He showed bend and speed and quick get-off on the snap. We saw all of the physical attributes outside of power a player needs to succeed in the NFL rushing the passer. That is good news.
Playing in space as a linebacker still seems a bit foreign to him. He gets overwhelmed by blockers, whom has struggles to shed. He tends to retreat more than attack, and his recognition of what is happening on offense seems behind.
Linebacker is a position many young players can blossom in early in their NFL careers, often relying on a natural instinct to shoot gaps and make plays. Jordyn Brooks is the latest example. I definitely want to see more, but at this point, I’m concerned about Taylor as a linebacker.
If he cannot step up in that role, it is unclear who would step in. Barton is the next best linebacker, but he does not have the size you really want at the SAM spot. What that could mean is the team reconsiders K.J. Wright and focuses Taylor more as a rotational rush end who can learn under Wright at SAM.
Cornerbacks play was distressing
Ahkello Witherspoon is a guy I was very excited to see the Seahawks sign and I loved what I saw from him in camp. Tre Flowers improved his play as the season wore on last year and has been getting rave reviews during camp. Neither one played a good game against backup receivers and a third-string quarterback. That is very, very bad news.
Witherspoon is the presumed starter opposite D.J. Reed, who did not play. He gave up an early third down reception and seemed to be either giving up too much cushion a number of times or misreading routes.
Flowers had great coverage on a big 3rd and 8 throw down the sideline but failed to turn his head or get his hands up and knock down the pass.
Seahawk fans had to have that familiar pit in their stomachs as the Raiders seemed to have no problem dinking and dunking their way downfield with almost no resistance from the secondary.
Reed will help. Marquise Blair did not play, and he will help. Still, I was really hoping to see some encouraging signs from Witherspoon and Flowers and saw nothing good.
Gavin Heslop deserves some praise for a few good plays.
Geno Smith was awful
Geno Smith has been a starter in the league and has been a backup for years. He should be a source of steady veteran leadership and poise during preseason games. What I saw was a happy-footed quarterback that played more like a nervous rookie than a savvy vet.
He was seeing pressure where there was none and not seeing pressure where there was. He was retreating on throws instead of stepping up into the pocket.
He appeared to be clearly concussed after taking a big hit, but the team put him back out there. I would assign more weight to that injury as a cause for the poor play, but he was playing the same way prior to getting hurt.
The performance was bad enough that I really question whether he should be the backup. Alex McGough offers more with his legs, and has some upside. I’m not sure the Seahawks can win a game with Smith at the quarterback. If that is true, he serves no purpose as a veteran backup.
Shane Waldron’s bleak beginning
Yes, it was backups on top of backups at the offensive line, and quarterback and receivers and tight ends. Yes the team was likely keeping things very vanilla to avoid showing too much of their hand in the preseason. You can provide every possible caveat, and that still was an awful offensive showing.
What I liked was there appeared to be some nice options in the short and intermediate areas. What I did not like was the total lack of run game or deeper throws. Even after the team had fallen behind 13-0, we did not see a shot down the field until the final drive.
If felt like a duck-and-cover type of approach. I am not going to overweight or overanalyze a game like this. What I will do is be honest in saying there was very little to like about what we saw on offense. I am hoping, but not assuming, that Waldron is a big success for Seattle. This is a guy who has never called plays. I find myself unimpressed by his answers in press conferences and a bit skeptical about who he is going to be when the lights and pressure are on. I am eagerly looking for reasons to be confident.
Keep in mind those glowing reports we are hearing about the Seahawks corners in camp are coming against this offense.
Next Saturday at 7PM PT
Seattle is back at it next weekend at Lumen Field. It will be the first Seahawks game with fans in over a year. I would expect to see some starters get snaps in that game, but who knows?
Most important will be to see better play from the secondary and interior defensive line. It would also be great to see a functional offensive line and some semblance of rhythm on offense.
The wide receiver and tight end positions were pretty terrible against the Raiders. Freddie Swain still seems like a guy more likely to be described as “serviceable” than “dangerous.” I would doubt the rookie top pick will get snaps if he is just starting to practice this week.
Of all the areas Seahawks fans could worry about after an ugly first preseason game, the ones that really matter are corner and receiver. The outline of this team appears to be a strong and talented offense, paired with a good-to-great pass rush and top-shelf safety play. All of that still seems likely to be true.
What we do not know is how the corners will hold up, especially in short passing where the pass rush is less likely to be impactful, and how receivers will do beyond the top two.
I would say it is code yellow on the corner front and code red on the receiver front. We learn more together next week.