The Morning After: Seahawks Offer Tantalizing Glimpse of Potential in 27-0 Beat Down of Chargers
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Remember when everyone downplayed or outright dismissed the significance of the first two blowout preseason losses due to lack of starters playing for the Seahawks? All those same caveats apply to this third and final preseason matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers. Seattle blew the doors off the visiting team, taking control just minutes in and never letting up. Russell Wilson, Bobby Wagner, Jamal Adams, DK Metcalf, and a slew of others never played a snap. There were, however, a lot of what appear to be meaningful flashes in this game that greatly improved my impression of what could happen during the regular season.
Let’s start with the debuts. Marquise Blair played his first snaps of the preseason after being injured in the second game last season. It took him only a few snaps before putting his stamp on the game. Blair gobbled up a fumble that popped free of quarterback Chase Daniel after Cody Barton demolished him on a blitz for his third sack of the preseason. Blair took the ball and dashed into the end zone for a quick 7-0 Seattle lead.
That was significant for a few reasons. Barton has had a consistently terrific preseason. He was a great special teams player last year and appears to finally have his footing and confidence as a linebacker. The mark of a great linebacker is not how many tackles they make, but where they make the tackles. Barton was a guy making most of plays yards past the line of scrimmage, or missing tackles entirely. We have seen him make a ton of tackles this preseason at the line or behind the line as he correctly diagnosed a play and picked the right gap to shoot. That bodes well for how ready he is to contribute should his number be called during the regular season.
Blair showed underrated athleticism in finding, and grabbing, a bouncing ball in midair while in the midst of linemen and defenders and taking it to the house. That may have felt unfamiliar for fans as the Seahawks defense did not score a single defensive touchdown last season. Blair is a playmaker. Everything about the way he plays screams impact and turnovers. As much as we all appreciated Ugo Amadi as a solid nickel corner, Blair looks like a different class of player.
Before leaving, he also leveled an opposing receiver on a third down play. It probably could have been called a personal foul, but the intimidation and swag he will bring is clear. Blair plays with very bad intentions, and I love it.
We also got our first look at rookie receiver Dee Eskridge. After missing most of camp with a toe injury, Eskridge stepped onto Lumen Field wearing #1 and delivering on his promise of dazzling speed. He took a fly sweep and cornered like a Ferrari while nabbing a 9-yard gain. Then he created about three yards of separation over the middle and took a pass for 19 yards.
You could not have scripted two better proof points of why the Seahawks wanted him in this offense. The importance of that fly sweep threat showed up a few plays later as they ran what looked like the same play, and the defense had to honor the threat of Eskridge running right, which stretched their spacing and created a big hole for Alex Collins to run through on the left.
A healthy Eskridge may wind up being a key cog in a very difficult to stop offense.
Speaking of offense
Shane Waldron finally showed us a little of what he has in store, and it was both relieving and thrilling. We really got to see the horizontal nature of this playbook that is such a perfect compliment to Wilson’s already elite vertical throwing game. These fly sweeps, and variable action off of those, is my favorite type of offensive component in that it is both incredibly simple and repeatable, while also being very difficult to defend.
That was not the only aspect of the offense to show up Saturday.
We saw eleven receptions by Seahawks running backs on simple swing passes and screens. These sort of simple and repeatable outlet patterns were largely absent from the offense in the Wilson era. Everything was always pushed downfield. Simple and repeatable are the words you will continue to hear from me as I see it as the key to unlocking the treasure trove of talent Seattle has on offense.
Remember how so many teams patronized the Seahawks defensive scheme as simple during the LOB years? There is something to be said for simplicity allowing talent to shine. How many times have we scratched our collective heads about why the team cannot put the ball in the hands of their playmakers like Metcalf or Chris Carson? That should be far less of an issue this season.
Get used to seeing a lot of Carson catching the ball in space and gaining 4-7 easy yards, with the potential for big plays if he can break a tackle or make a man miss.
We have not even really seen the intermediate and deep passing game yet that likely will look quite different than McVay’s offense. My hunch is they will find ways to get into Wilson’s favorite throws and plays from sets that look very similar to the McVay offense. It should be a fascinating hybrid.
The Rams have regularly averaged around 30 points or more when they were at their peak of talent on offense, and that was with Jared Goff behind center. The Seahawks have more talent then they ever had and one of the game’s best quarterbacks. Despite what looks like a grueling schedule, full of great defenses, Seattle has a shot to threaten 30 point per game with this scheme and talent.
Rashaad Penny once again got the starter snaps in this game at running back. He did not stand out. His carries were fine, but far from impressive. He has never been someone who excels at breaking tackles or making people miss. His game is accelerating through creases in the line and having home run ability once he gets past the first line of defenders.
I still believe his skill set fits this offense really well, but it would be surprising if Seattle isn’t listening to trade offers from teams who need a running back. The question is how much value he has given he is returning from injury and has not flashed in the preseason. Some team may look at his first-round pick status and gaudy yards per carry career numbers and be intrigued. If not, Seattle likely keeps him anyway as the dead money hit to the cap would be greater than the savings. In other words, you would have to pay to not have him on your roster, and despite fans ire, he is not so bad the team would be better off paying to cut him.
I still expect him to flash in the season and that could create trade value before the deadline.
Alex Collins was one of the stars of the night. He ran over and around people, showing deft feet and boundless energy. He is the kind of runner who infuses energy into the crowd and the sideline. Pete Carroll knows it and loves it. It is very hard to see the team letting Collins walk. He needs to be on the roster.
The transition of Nick Bellore from fullback to linebacker might open enough roster spots for the Seahawks to keep all five of their running backs. I think we all would be excited to see Collins as the counter-punch to Carson.
The coaches clearly have not been thrilled with Ahkello Witherspoon’s performance thus far, and gave Damarious Randall the start opposite Tre Flowers. Randall largely squandered the opportunity. He gave too much cushion on a few plays, surrendering first down yardage multiple times. Coaches may feel he did better than fans given he did not let any plays develop over his head downfield, but it felt mediocre at best.
I thought Witherspoon looked much, much better. He was primarily responsible for the third down pass breakup where Blair cleaned up with the big hit. He expertly diagnosed a pass toward the end zone on another third down and boxed out the receiver by getting in his way, turning his back, running with the pass, and slowing down to keep the receiver from every having a shot. It was not a flashy performance, but it was solid corner play.
Flowers has what seemed like another good game. I do not recall him surrendering a single catch.
Newcomer John Reid played late, but only got a few snaps. He looked solid, but there was not a lot to go on.
I expect DJ Reed and Flowers to be the starting corners once the regular season comes around, but Witherspoon may have done enough to snag his starting spot back.
Defensive line continues to shine
This very well may be one of the deepest defensive lines the Seahawks have ever had. While they lack the dominating Alpha like Aaron Donald or Chandler Jones or Nick Bosa, they could very well be tougher to game plan against. The Seattle line is like a Hydra. You can cut off one of the heads, but there are more ready to attack with equal ferocity.
Darrell Taylor has his first sack of the preseason and his career, and followed up with another half-sack later. He created pressure pretty regularly through the evening. Alton Robinson had another sack and continues to be a handful for opponents. Rasheem Green was not as productive as past games but still flushed the quarterback and was the key to the sack shared by Taylor and Kerry Hyder Jr. Hyder was productive again.
This was without Carlos Dunlap, Benson Mayowa, or Poona Ford. We do not know if Robert Nkemdiche figures into the teams plans or Geno Atkins could be added to the mix.
There has to be real questions about whether L.J. Collier belongs on the squad. He may be another former first-round pick the team tries to get some value for in trade before the Tuesday roster cut down.
I have been enjoying Lakiem Williams rags to riches story so far in the preseason, but I do not believe he did enough to force the team to keep him. Another rookie linebacker had a much better game. Jon Rhattigan, an Army grad, flashed all over the field. He had missed time with an injury, but played so well, the team has to wonder if they need to keep him at least on the practice squad.
He finished with a team best 94.5 grade on Pro Football Focus, with plus grades in run defense, tackling, pass rush, and coverage. For comparison, Barton played a great game as well, but his grade was 86.3 and he had middling run defense and tackling grades.
Phil Haynes was the top performer on offense, per PFF. He came out with a sterling 92.0 overall grade, with 86.9 pass blocking and 90.0 run blocking. I still am frustrated by the team’s unwillingness to give him a real shot at center. Kyle Fuller once again had a sub-30 pass block grade, finishing at 21.5.
Stone Forsythe had a good grade as well, at 79.8 overall.
Gerald Everett got his first snaps and stood out as a blocker. That is an underrated aspect of his addition to the team.
Mercifully, that was the last preseason game. Seattle will need to cut down their roster to 53 players by Tuesday. Then there will be almost two weeks until the first regular season game. Why they did that instead of two bye weeks, I’ll never understand.
As painful as it was, there were some promising players to emerge for Seattle. Barton had arguably the best overall preseason. Green and Robinson were up there as well.
The peek at Waldron’s offense was tantalizing, and should have fans daydreaming until they get to see it live and fully loaded.
The only position group that feels less than loaded is the cornerback group. That is a real concern, and will be tested early and often. The center position remains a problem, but there is reason to be bullish about every other part of the line.
We will not truly know what this team is until the regular season begins. Given their relative health and talent, there is reason to think this could be a better team than most in the league are anticipating.