The Morning After: Seahawks Make Strong Opening Argument, Down Colts 28-16
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The 2020 season was a sickening roller coaster for the Seahawks and their fans. Their quarterback played half a season as the MVP and half a season far from it. Their defense played half a season as one of the worst defenses in history and half a season as one of the best defenses in football. After another early playoff exit in ugly fashion, the offseason was as tumultuous as we have seen in the Pete Carroll era. The offensive coordinator was fired, and the star quarterback took his grievances public. Most NFL analysts looked at the free agent class as uninspiring and the 3-pick draft as wafer thin. All that combined to create more skepticism for the 2021 Seahawks than most reigning division champions. Seattle made a strong case in their first game that it would be the vultures circling above them who will go hungry as they devoured their opponent from start to finish.
Great start for Shane Waldron
The most important offseason addition in Seattle was their new offensive coordinator, Shane Waldron. We knew a lot about his former boss down in LA, Sean McVay, but we had precious little information about Waldron. He had never called plays in an NFL game. Most of his starters did not play during the preseason. We could not be sure how he planned to mix run and pass, or perform in the red zone, or utilize his different players.
The telltale signs of inexperience—burned timeouts due to late substitutions or play calls, false starts, bungled plays— never showed up. Instead, the Seahawks offense played at a high level from their opening possession. They scored touchdowns on their first two drives, and entered halftime with 21 points.
We saw the increased tempo that has been discussed endlessly. We saw effective running and lethal passing. We saw execution in the red zone, and on 3rd down. Perhaps most encouraging, we saw simple, repeatable ways for the offense to gain yards.
Russell Wilson is the king of completing passes that analytics says he should not be able to make. There is even a statistic that tracks this called CPOE (Completion Percentage over Expected) that Wilson regularly leads in the NFL. Arguably the most important task for Waldron is to find more reliable throws for Wilson to marry with his already elite ability to make big time throws.
The initial results here were highly encouraging. Of Wilson’s four touchdown passes, two were pretty repeatable pitch and catches. The red zone play to Gerald Everett was beautiful and simple. The seam route to DK Metcalf looked like a 7v7 drill. Beyond that, there were dump offs to running backs and tight ends with room to run in front of them.
It only took 23 pass attempts for Wilson to pile up 254 yards (11.0 yards per attempt) and 4 touchdowns. His 152.3 passer rating was the highest he has registered since 2018, and the second highest of his career. Seven different players caught passes, with 9 going to WRs, 5 going to TEs, and 4 going to RBs. Thirteen of his 18 completions came within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. He completed all but one of those, and that incompletion was an intentional throw in the ground after Wilson prematurely decided a screen to Metcalf was not going to work.
Getting the most out of Wilson was only part of the challenge facing Waldron. He also needed to figure out how to mix run and pass in a way that satisfied his head coach without sacrificing too much offensive efficiency.
Seattle finished with 140 yards rushing and a 5.2 yard per carry average. Chris Carson had more rushing yards (91) than he did in any game last season. Dee Eskridge had two productive jet sweeps that averaged 11.0 yards per play.
Overall, the offense averaged a whopping 7.2 yards per play, which already matched their season high from last season, and ranks among the best in the NFL after one week.
As well as the offense performed, especially for a season opener, it felt like this was only their first gear. This team needs the offense to be elite in order to be a legitimate contender. This was a very solid step in the right direction.
Tight ends add to opponent woes
Gerald Everett was the highest-priced free agent addition the Seahawks made at $6M for this season. Will Dissly is coming off his least impressive NFL season. The two players combined for a perfect 6 catches in 6 targets for 57 yards and 1 TD. That is good for a 145 passer rating when targeting the tight end position. While it is not quite as impressive as the perfect 158.3 when targeting Metcalf and Lockett, but will certainly grab the attention of opposing defensive coordinators.
Both Dissly and Everett are skilled blockers and receivers. Both can run after the catch. Where defenses may have been able to predict what Seattle was going to do in the past based on having two tight ends in the game, it should be much tougher this season.
Metcalf and Lockett take turns tormenting Colts
As great as it was to see 21 points on the board at halftime, it was concerning to see Metcalf without a single target. Teams spent a lot of time last season working to take away Metcalf. Too often, Seattle allowed them to succeed.
Waldron and Wilson were not going to let that happen in this game. Metcalf had five targets in the second half, leading to four receptions and a touchdown.
All this came after a first half that saw Lockett showcasing why he is still one of the most underrated receivers in the league. His over-the-shoulder catch on the first score was sublime. His 69-yard touchdown on 2nd and 20 was essentially the game winner.
Lockett was excited to point out after the game that all the receivers are interchangeable and it will be harder for teams to key on where someone is lined up to determine where the ball is going.
Eskridge looked great in the small number of snaps he received. His jet sweeps were productive and his one catch was off a nice route.
Freddie Swain had almost double the snaps (23 to 12) of Eskridge. That makes sense as the rookie is coming up to speed on the offense and his role, but it already seems clear Eskridge is the better player so that snap split should shift.
Offensive line did okay
This was the first time the five starters on the offensive line played in a game together. The pass protection seemed mostly quite good, especially on the edges.
Wilson ended the day with 3 sacks, but at least one of them was because he chose to slide down behind the line of scrimmage instead of throwing the ball out of bounds. He did not take many big shots except for one up the middle when Ethan Pocic was demolished by a bull rush.
Pocic was awful when he was in the game. He also looked smaller than past seasons. Kyle Fuller did better, but was not great in pass blocking.
Pocic went out with a knee sprain that we will learn more about today. If he is out for any extended time, newly acquired Dakota Shepley could step into the backup role.
Pass rush stars for defense
I angered more than a few 49ers fans on Twitter when I said the Seahawks have a deeper defensive line than the 49ers. This game did nothing to change my opinion.
Seattle created pressure from both edges and up the middle in this game, and mostly did so without needing to bring an extra player. In total, the Seahawks had 3 sacks and 10 QB hits from 7 different players.
Rasheem Green made a big statement after an impressive preseason. He had a sack, two QB hits, and two passes defensed. We tend to joke about John Schneider drafting older players, but Green is still only 24 years old, and is starting to look like he may have more upside than he demonstrated in years one and two in the league.
Darrell Taylor had a terrific debut, finishing with a sack and two QB hits. He rushed the passer with power and agility and made the Colts right tackle, Braden Smith, look foolish. Smith is a very good pass blocker, but came out of this game licking his wounds.
Benson Mayowa had a great sack. Carlos Dunlap sacked Carson Wentz on a 2-point try. Bryan Mone pancaked Wentz. Poona Ford and Kerry Hyder Jr. got a lick in as well.
All that, and you still have Alton Robinson on the bench, only receiving 12 snaps, but finishing with the highest pass rush grade of the bunch (93.0 from PFF).
Seattle left LJ Collier inactive for this game, and one has to wonder if the team will look to add Geno Atkins to the mix at the expense of Collier.
Whether they make a move or not, the pass rush created by the defensive line was as encouraging as anything we saw in this game.
Jamal Adams only rushed the passer four times. Bobby Wagner did it four times as well. That is a far better formula for consistent defensive success than sending your safety on 20% of the snaps like Seattle did last season.
Both Wagner and Adams played solid. but not flashy, games. A Seahawks defense that can play at a high level without needing their two best players to play to dominate or constantly blitz should be more dependable that what we saw last year.
Cornerbacks did okay, but questions remain
Most Seahawks fans would have guessed Tre Flowers would be the corner who struggled most in this game. While Flowers did give up a touchdown pass and a 3rd down conversion, he mostly played a solid game without the aggravating mile of cushion he tends to give opponents.
DJ Reed, on the other hand, struggled in this game. There were two blown zone coverages that yielded chunk plays for Indy. It was unclear if Reed was responsible for both errors but he was involved with both plays. He also picked up a questionable pass interference penalty that kept a drive alive for the Colts.
This team has enough questions at corner that they cannot afford to have Reed regress from his solid play in 2020.
One surprise in the secondary was the splitting of snaps between Marquise Blair and Ugo Amadi. Blair has been a guy the team has been hyping as a major impact player. Amadi certainly deserves snaps, but having them come at the expense of Blair is tough to swallow.
It will be interesting to see if the team considers giving Amadi any snaps outside. If the goal is to get your three best corners on the field, finding a way for Blair and Amadi to play together would make sense.
Pepto Bismol sales plummet among Seahawks fans
Seahawks fans love to hate the Carroll mantra that you can only win a game in the fourth quarter. Seeing the team sputter to start so many games has left folks screaming at TVs and searching for therapists.
Those folks were likely double-checking their prescriptions while watching the offense three touchdowns on the first four possessions and lead by a comfortable 21-10 margin at halftime.
There was very little drama to this game. Even last season, when the team would score a lot early, we would watch the defense fail to hold the lead or make things far more stressful than needed. Not this time.
The defense held the Colts to 3 and out on five of their first seven possessions, and forced a fumble after 5 plays on the eighth. The game was effectively over when Taylor sacked Wentz on 4th & 2 at the Seahawks 18-yard line with roughly 10 minutes to go.
Seattle’s offense took the next possession and drove 73 yards for a dagger touchdown with about seven minutes left. There were very few Seahawks games last year that were over with a larger chunk of the fourth quarter left to play.
There was a pivotal play earlier in the game that could easily go unnoticed because the outcome was rather mundane. The play was far from normal. Michael Dickson took a snap to punt the ball with about 5 minutes left in the second quarter and Seattle only leading 14-10.
Dickson stood at about the Seahawks 40-yard line when he caught the snap, and then decided he was not going to be able to get the kick off and started dashing to his right.
Two Colts chased him and were in the process of dragging him down as Dickson managed to get off 25 yard punt to the Indianapolis 28 yard line. With a 5 yard penalty assessed for an illegal man downfield, the Colts took over at their own 33 yard line instead of at the Seahawks 40 or worse.
Browns fans will have to avoid seeing that play as their own punter had a similar situation with the Browns leaded late against the Chiefs. He dropped the snap, and sprinted to his right, but instead of having the cool head under pressure to think about punting it, he just ran around and got tackled for a turnover on downs deep in Cleveland territory.
Just another reason to be thankful for Michael Dickson.
NFC West is going to be a 17-round heavyweight bout
Every team in the NFC West posted impressive opening wins. This was the first time the division has ever started with four undefeated teams.
As good as Seattle looked, it would be hard to argue it was more impressive than what the Cardinals did to the Titans in Tennessee. The 49ers and Rams had easier openers due to opponent or location or both.
San Francisco losing arguably their best cornerback in Jason Verrett for the season was perhaps the biggest negative for any of the teams. That could lead to the 49ers bringing back Richard Sherman, which would remove him as a safety net for Seattle.
I hope most of all that Sherman is recovering and doing better off the field. I also really hope he ends up with Seattle if he is going to play anywhere. There may not be any other options for upgrading that position.
Titans up next
The Titans will be coming to Seattle licking their wounds after getting pummeled on both sides of the ball by the Cardinals. A team many thought had legitimate Super Bowl aspirations will be determined to avoid an 0-2 start.
They will face a Seahawks team getting to play in front of their famous home crowd for the first time in over a year. Players like Adams, Dunlap, Robinson, Taylor, and others have never played a single snap in that environment.
It will be a much stiffer test for the Seattle cornerbacks facing AJ Brown and Julio Jones than what they saw this week. The Seahawks offense will be facing a lesser defense than they played this week.
With the first game in the books, teams can now sign veterans without guaranteeing their contracts for the full season. That could mean some roster changes worth monitoring, with Atkins being the most likely.
Both Penny Hart and Eskridge suffered concussions, which would make for a very thin receiving corps if both do not recover in time.
As far as concerns go, those are pretty minor. The 2021 Seahawks are only just starting to come into focus, and what we can make out looks capable of winning the toughest division in football again.